By Kurt Epps—The PubScout
It was a dark and stormy night.
And worse, it was Halloween. So after making my way past ersatz ghouls, goblins and witches plying their craft on Metuchen's Main Street, the warm glow that came from the windows of Hailey's Harp and Pub beckoned me with the allure of a sultry siren.
There was a line to get in and a wait to be seated, so I was thankful I had an appointment with owner Chris Flynn, who, I was sure, would be able to find a place for us to sit and chat. He did, and it was right in the middle of a gaggle of ghouls, goblins, witches and—thank heaven--a few sirens, for Hailey's was celebrating its first ever Halloween party, having opened for business a few weeks ago. The pub hubbub, one of my criteria for a good pub, was appealingly, though not overbearingly, loud.
The place was packed with revelers, mostly over 30, and many were in costume, including the help. There was a pimp working the bar, and what looked like a 50-year old baby sitting at it drinking Guinness. The youthful owner Chris Flynn was celebrating what appeared to be his 30th birthday and was not in costume, though his partner Jerry Windos was.
Chris ordered me a Hailey's Ale, a ruby/brown malty ale with a fragrant nose that had a hauntingly familiar taste. Chris allowed that it was made by none other than Dave Hoffman of Climax Brewing, and that it was by far his best seller—especially with the ladies. With a tip of the hat to community service, a portion of the proceeds of every Hailey's Ale keg goes to a fund to assist the family of Mike Fuccile, a Wall St. worker who was brutally murdered by a knife-wielding nut job in Jersey City some time back.
Hailey's Harp and Pub (named for Chris's 8-year-old daughter) was born because Chris, a runner, stopped into a shop up the block on Main St. for running shoes, then casually asked where he could get a burger and a beer. When he was told that the closest place might be the Menlo Park Mall vicinity, he was incredulous. A Wall St. man, he decided that the lovely burg of Metuchen needed a real pub, and he would be the one to provide it. He wanted an authentic pub atmosphere and a family-type place (hence the absence of Crazy Shots and Red Bull) and he and his partners went to work. Used to operating in the corporate finance world, but unused to the often tortoise-paced speed of municipal approvals, Flynn said The Harp (as it is known by many patrons) was slow aborning. In fact, it hasn't even officially opened yet. That event is set for Tuesday, November 3, and will feature fife and drums, music, Irish dances and a free buffet, all commencing at 6PM. Despite this, The Pub has been packed every night since "unofficially" opening.
If the buffet is anything like the food I sampled on this visit, guests are in for a treat. Chef Johnny La Barbera, who Chris calls the heart and soul of what emanates from the scullery, produces some superb fare, and it's a few levels above normal pub stuff, too. A pint of Guinness, an Irish pub standard, is listed as the first "appetizer" on the menu. The Corned Beef and Cabbage Rolls are a must-try, as is the Potato Leek Soup, so chock full of potatoes swimming in an exceptional broth that your stomach might say, "Hold it right there. No mas."
But that would be a mistake. My gauge of a good Irish Pub lies in how well it makes a Shepherd's Pie, and Johnny La Barbera makes a great one. Made with lamb, beef and often pork, this is a gargantuan offering that will warm your cockles and more on a chilly winter's night. Coupled with a pint of Hailey's Ale, you won't find a better match. The Harp grinds its own 10 oz. burgers, and everything is hand made. Johnny, who loves to cook with beer, also seems to be a fan of experimenting with Jameson's Irish Whiskey, and you'll find it in abundance in the "Kicked Up" Strawberries, provided you have room to fit them. The Irish Car Bomb Cake, easily four times the size of this sliver, is truly the Bomb.
The service, provided by 20 + employees, is friendly and efficient, from gals like Theresa to Dot, a delightful seasoned citizen who serves as a hostess. Kevin, one of the barmen, will be happy to serve you as well, though I suspect he may be differently attired when you go. When it comes to service, Chris's credo, reinforced at staff meetings bi-weekly, is that "the Devil is in the details." He wants patrons who come to his pub to not only feel that they have a home away from home, but that an excellent experience is repeatable.
And when you do visit--as well you should—you'll be able to choose from the nine TV's that adorn the pub walls to watch your favorite sporting events—including the World Cup game between Ireland and France coming up in mid-November. There's also a currently under-utilized back room with a 1954 vintage shuffleboard that will serve nicely to host private gatherings and beer dinners, which Chris and Johnny are currently planning to sponsor. There's acoustic entertainment after 9 PM, too. You can check out the rest of the pics here.
Though it may have taken a while to get up and running, The Harp seems to be functioning on all eight cylinders now. If current crowds are any indication of what's to come, better plan to sleep over on March 16, the night before St. Patty's Day.
©Kurt Epps 2009 All Rights Reserved