A Belgian IPA served on draft at the monk
Something about Ridgewood brings me back to earlier–dare I say simpler–times. It’s easy to imagine the storefronts along Fresh Pond Road as they looked decades ago–they probably haven’t changed too much since. And that’s why the monk, a new Belgian beer house that opened in December on the Ridgewood thoroughfare, seems right at home where it is, even though a place where beer is treated like fine wine sounds much more L-train.
There’s nothing trendy about the monk. It’s a bar whose sense of style and taste are firmly grounded, as indifferent to the whims of changing fashions as the character of the neighborhood it calls home. Televisions are verboten.
On a recent visit, classic, unimpeachable jazz played in the background. A rotary-style phone rang, sounding an honest-to-goodness bell. They may have a beer-geek-approved IPA from an obscure microbrewery in Gowanus on tap (Other Half IPA), but that’s just because the owners think that it’s a fine expression of the style. Most of the rest of the eight taps pour Belgian ales, and a majority of their roughly 30 bottles come from the lower of the Low Countries too.
The Belgian focus is a conservative gesture for a beer bar in today’s freewheeling beer culture, with craft brewers pushing the boundaries of what we know as beer, fetishizing hops and IBUs and doing every crazy thing you can think of doing to the beverage, from aging it in tequila barrels to pouring it over “white-hot river rocks.”
The name of the bar itself signals its allegiances, an homage to the brewing traditions of the Trappist monasteries that are nearly synonymous with Belgian beer. But surprisingly enough, the inspiration for the monk came on a trip to Amsterdam, where owners Joe Figliolia and Dan Berkery discovered a beer house, In De Wildeman, that ignited their interest in Belgian beer and would later become the model for their bar.
The curving, stained wood bar does give the place a certain Northern European air, and a matching wooden pew you pass on the way to the ample round tables in the back room reinforces the monastic theme. When the weather warms, Joe and Dan plan to open up the back yard and put tables out on the sidewalk in front to allow for outdoor refreshment.
Specializing in the traditional ales of a small nation may appear limiting, but the monk’s thoughtfully curated selections make for a refreshing departure from the bloated hodgepodges that comprise the menus of too many beer-lover’s bars. They’ve selected taps that showcase a range of Belgian styles and flavor profiles, and Dan takes evident delight in doling out shot-glass samples so you can find a beer that suits your taste before investing your hard-earned dollars.
“We’re beer missionaries,” Dan says, only half-jokingly.
He and Joe are pretty certain that they can help you find a beer that will be a revelation, even if you’re not much of a beer drinker.
Margaret McGuire, who moved to Ridgewood from Bushwick in the 1970s, stops by the bar often for a glass of red wine (they offer five wines by the glass). She identifies herself self-deprecatingly as “one of those beer drinkers,” the unenlightened who prefer Bud or Coors to anything with more flavor. Nevertheless, the guys at the monk won her over to the Rodenbach Grand Cru they keep on draft, a sour Belgian red ale that evokes the acidic tang of certain red wines.
Owners Dan Berkery (left) and Joe Figliolia (right) won’t rest until they’ve found you a beer you love
Having just opened in December, the monk is still cultivating its customer base. But according to Joe, the clientele they’ve served so far is “eclectic,” including the area’s Polish population as well as “transplanted Williamsburgers and Bushwickers.”
As Joe tells it, he and Dan, who both live in Forest Hills, were totally oblivious to the overflow of young people from those areas into neighboring Ridgewood when they were choosing the location for the bar. As roommates right out of college, they both lived in the neighborhood. They remembered Fresh Pond Road from those days, found that real estate prices were “reasonable” on the commercial main drag, and decided to set up shop.
“If you were doing this strictly for money, you wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing,” Joe contends. Talking to the guys, it’s clear why they’re doing this. Down to the last detail, they’ve created a bar that they love, a monument to their particular passions and sensibilities. It’s a place that’s aware of the current moment in beer culture but has no horse in the race to become The Next Big Thing–a place to enjoy timeless pleasures.
the monk is located at 68-67 Fresh Pond Rd. in Ridgewood. Hours: Mon-Thu 5:00 – 12:00; Fri 5:00 – 2:00; Sat 2:00 – 2:00; Sun 2:00 – 12:00.