By JIM McCUNE //
The South Shore’s Patchogue Village has undergone a major revitalization in recent years – new shops, bars and restaurants seem to open every day, and the unprecedented transformation has turned Main Street into a spectacle, and a hot year-round destination.
At the heart of it all is Patchogue’s oldest commercial building, at 67 West Main St. Built in 1850 by John Havens from fieldstone and ship ballast – plentiful materials at the time – it served originally as the J.S. Havens General Store. But it’s best identified today by its current occupant: the BrickHouse Brewery & Restaurant.
The journey from historical landmark to history-making brewpub was interesting indeed. Havens descended from Long Island Quakers, who were strong abolitionists, and at the height of the U.S. Civil War, the general store’s large basement was a safe stop on the Underground Railroad, the secret network used by African-American slaves to escape into free states and Canada.
In 1862, the J.S. Havens General Store was suspiciously destroyed by fire. Havens rebuilt, this time using red brick.
By 1869, Patchogue was already a tourist destination, the last stop on an above-ground railroad connecting the village to New York City. Hotels, boarding houses, saloons and restaurants sprang up, providing a quick and inexpensive getaway for a steady flow of city folk.
Havens enjoyed these busy years, running the store while serving as Patchogue’s postmaster and eventually supervisor of Brookhaven Town before dying in 1903. Businessman James Shand purchased the building from Havens’ children in 1914, converting the space into Shand’s General Store and Grocery, which boasted the ingenious motto: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”
Following Shand’s death in 1961, the entrepreneur’s family continued operating the store, all the way until 1990.
In 1995, a new path would emerge for 67 West Main St., when locals Tom Keegan, James McPeak, George Hoag and Debbie Byrnes purchased the nearly 150-year-old building to open a modern brewery and restaurant – while carefully renovating the space to preserve the building’s historical significance.
“It was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work,” Keegan notes. “We couldn’t have done the renovation without our electrician, Bob Walch, and Dave Knapp, who led our group of custom builders. Seriously, we couldn’t have pulled this detailed project off without them.”
“You can feel the history all over,” adds Maud Franklin, now the general manager of the BrickHouse Brewery & Restaurant. “This building has great energy. It’s so cool when we meet customers that remember Shand’s. It always reminds us that we’re just a chapter in a very long book called Patchogue.”
The new owners spared no expense in preserving the original structure’s heritage, Franklin notes, plus its farmhouse character and charm. The bar top was made from the general store’s maple floorboards. Original signage still hangs behind the bar. Excavated remnants mark the building’s brick exterior. The facility’s second-floor dining room is affectionately dubbed “Shand’s Loft.”
BrickHouse Brewery & Restaurant officially opened on June 6, 1996, as Patchogue’s first craft brewery, and 21 years later, it’s still “a beautiful place,” according to manager Lauren Rothe, now featuring a stage for live performances, a massive wrap-around bar, a brand-new dining room and large, renovated bathrooms – and of course “an awesome outdoor beer garden,” Rothe notes.
But for all its attractions, beer remains BrickHouse’s bread and butter. The selection includes unique and frequently changing specials, in addition to the company’s flagship Beowulf IPA, Street Light Ale, BrickHouse Red and Nitro Boom Stout.
Its stellar reputation and loyal following are the results of a simple formula, according to customer Frank Simonetti, a regular who’s been coming to the brewpub “since Day One.”
“Brew one-of-a-kind beers that celebrate the harmonious relationship between food and drink in a friendly and comfortable space,” says Simonetti, who credits the 21-year-old pub with helping to change the very face of Patchogue.
“Patchogue was quite a different place back then,” he notes. “Blue Point Brewing wasn’t even a thing. There was nothing going on here until BrickHouse opened and introduced us to craft beer.”
Of course, the village’s original brewpub didn’t change Patchogue’s identity singlehandedly. Focused downtown-redevelopment efforts brought hundreds of newly constructed apartments and mixed-use commercial spaces, including plenty of drinking and dining options.
To keep up, BrickHouse has changed with the times.
“We just renovated our main dining room with brand-new decor inspired by our brewery equipment,” notes head brewer Paul Komsic, including black-and-red color schemes “thematic of our brand colors and tap handles.”
That’s just part of a big 2017 at the BrickHouse, which has also brought on executive chef Phil Capobianco, a graduate of the esteemed Culinary Institute of America. Capobianco and Komsic immediately revamped the menu, infusing the brewery’s iconic beers into many of the new selections, including Asian-Creole-fusion seafood and other delectable dishes.
“My goal is to bring the food up to the level of the beer,” Capobianco notes. “This isn’t pub fare. It’s fine cuisine.”
Meanwhile, the BrickHouse has continued to focus on local ingredients – for a locavore like Komsic, “one of the best things about being a brewer on Long Island.”
“My goal is to increasingly use more local ingredients,” he says. “Right now, we’re brewing with cheese pumpkin from Anderson Farms in Riverhead, fresh hops from Condzella’s Farm in Wading River, honey from South Bay Apiaries in Medford, the list goes on.
“At the end of the day, our beer tastes better, and we’re supporting local farmers.”
And the innovations continue: This year, BrickHouse is releasing exciting new varieties while revisiting some popular flavors from the past. It’s also collaborating with other regional breweries on some new adventures, and is plotting what Komsic called “a barrel-aged series.”
The brewery has also partnered with Brookhaven Town on the town’s innovative “Brew-to-Moo” program, with BrickHouse’s leftover barley and wheat feeding livestock at local farms.
“Rather than dumping thousands of pounds of spent grain in a landfill, it gives us great pleasure to know we’re feeding these animals,” says assistant brewer Brian Smith. “We know they love the warm grains, because every week when that truck pulls up, the animals run over and line up to eat.”
“It’s been exciting watching Patchogue Village literally build up all around us,” notes co-founder McPeak. “We’re extremely grateful to our family, our local community, and very proud to celebrate our 21st birthday as Patchogue’s original microbrewery.”
McCune is director of the Craft Beverage Division of Melville-based EGC Group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (516) 935-4944.