By Kurt Epps—The PubScout
Despite one of my favorite pubs of all time—Tierney’s Tavern—being just three blocks away, I had heard enough scuttlebutt among beer nuts about Egan’s on Walnut in Montclair, NJ to entice me to visit.
I stopped in for a late lunch with two of my SubScouts, and found the place to be visually appealing, both for its multilevel design and its interesting “hang a left to get to the bar” structure. It has a comfortable pub feel, though decidedly not as cozily welcoming as Tierney’s.
An affable chap named Bill approached and inquired about our seating wishes and directed us to the outer area—where the largest TV screen is—and promised to send over someone with an exotic name I now disremember to take our order. It was, disappointingly, a long time before Ms. Exotic Name got around to us, despite a virtually empty room.
Egan’s had a decent beer list, but also promoted its own beer. There is apparently a question as to where Egan’s house beers are actually made, but more about that later. I asked the server (when she finally got there) if I could sample the featured beer before I ordered a pint. She assured me I could, then disappeared again, apparently to Venezuela.
Affable Bill wandered by eventually and I asked him the same question, whereupon he said he would set me up a “flight” though I had not requested one. He knew I was a beer and pub reviewer, though, and one of the few perqs of this business is the occasional sample flight on the house—which I later discovered was not the case.
While Affable Bill left to get the flight I hadn’t requested, another chap, somewhat older and more important looking, came over and introduced himself as Joe. Joe, apparently a manager, regaled me with facts about Egan’s being selected twice as Bar of the Month (or some such distinction) in NJ Monthly magazine, which is nice, I suppose (considering NJ Monthly doesn’t really know scheiss from shinola about beer or pubs).
But Joe went on to tell me that there was another Egan’s—an exact replica of this one—being opened in West Orange very soon, and that the owners actually own pubs in Ireland—which is where I thought Affable Bill went to get my unrequested flight, it was taking so long.
Bill arrived just as Joe was telling me that Egan’s makes all their own beer “in tanks upstairs,” prompting me to respond with, “So you’re a brewpub then?” “Yes,” Joe offered. Puzzlingly, Joe did not know the name of the brewer when I asked him, and I asked him twice. He claimed he had only been at the place for three months, which sounds to me like enough time to get to know the name of the guy who supposedly brews the beer. I discovered later that Egan’s beers may be contract brewed elsewhere, but stored in those tanks upstairs. In that case, not knowing the name of the brewer is forgivable. Misrepresenting your establishment as a bona fide brewpub if it isn't, however, is not.
Bill brought my flight and the four mini-glasses of beer were certainly drinkable—a decent transitional lager, a passable pale ale, a red and an Oktoberfest. Still in marzen mode—which this Oktoberfest was really not—and having ordered a Cottage Pie from the waitress with the exotic name during one of her pass-throughs, I ordered up an O-fest when she next made an appearance.
Ten to fifteen minutes later, with my beer still not delivered, Affable Bill passed by, and concerned that Ms. Exotic Name was nowhere to be seen, he brought my beer. It was tasty, but a true Oktoberfest it wasn’t. I could not get a straight answer as to whether this was the Oktoberfest or something called the Oddfellow—which is what I originally wanted a small taste of early in my visit, and, not coincidentally, what I was beginning to feel like.
The food was OK, though pricey. It took Ms. Exotic Name a while to bring me the $70 tab—that’s almost $25 apiece for three guys, two of whom drank only soda. I also noticed that Affable Bill had charged me $4 for the flight I didn’t ask for, so I plunked down one of the few Franklins I have left after two college tuitions. A year or so later, Ms. Exotic Name returned from Bora Bora, looked at my Franklin and boldly asked if I needed change. I hate that. Note to servers: pick up the money and say “I’ll be right back with your change.” If the patron says, “Keep it,” you’re good to go.
I responded to Ms. Exotic Name’s query with an “Absolutely.”
Bottom line: Ms. Exotic Name returned with my change just in time for me to qualify for Social Security.
I wanted change, but mostly I wanted to change my location. While I certainly wish Egan’s no ill, they will have to plod on without me. My first visit to Egan’s was also my last.
My money stays with Tierney’s the next time I’m in Montclair.