So I’m out and about visiting with some friends in Northern New Jersey and I come across the same problem I have everytime I travel. Where can I get a good pint of Guinness?
Now anyone who knows a good pint from a bad one takes note of a couple of things. First is the pour. In most of the trendy New York City bars, the bartenders pour Guinness like crap. They fill the glass to the top and hand it to you like any one of the other on tap brands. In others, they pour it right, but it only gets served once in a blue moon, which brings me to my second point. If the Guinness doesn’t “move” and and they don’t clean the keg feeds often, you can taste the last time they served a dark pint there. In some rare cases, that could have been last St. Paddy’s Day. To me, this is unnacceptable. If your Guinness doesn’t move as often as it should, cleaning your lines at least once every two weeks and stepping up your marketing is a start. Pubs of exceptional taste are known to clean their lines weekly, sometimes twice.
So anyways, a friend of mine bought a house in Maplewood, New Jersey so he could raise his family in the idylic suburban setting. He works in New York’s silicon alley and his wife with a company based in Jersey City but poised to move to Wall street within the year. I went to visit their suburban heaven with no care as to where I would get my Guinness fix.
Friday night arrives and my thoughts are of course with my pint starved pallet. My pal suggests that I take in the St. James Gate in downtown Maplewood. Usually I opt for the store bought Guinness in the can to get my fix, but he claimed that his father in law was quite taken with the local pub. My curiousity piqued, I had to give it a go. I expected a one bar town with stools from the seventies and a pool table from the sixties but I found what I thought I could not.
After checking out the place, I have this to say. The St. James Gate Publick House is the finest pub in Maplewood. This statement shouldn’t be cheapened by the fact that the St. James Gate is the only pub in Maplewood. It is a fine pub in its own right. Superficially, you can compare the St. James Gate to all the Irish pubs in Manhattan who are distinguished only by their bartenders and customers. The crowd is made up of casually dressed, well to do male patrons and pretty girls taking in the warm summer night. It has the dark wood framed, stocked bar, with all the whiskeys you know and love along with the single malt favorites for the discerning drinker. The St. James goes to the next level by having a kitchen which pushes forth excellent flavor vapors beyond the dining room which takes up the left side of the establishment. The furnishings have all been imported from Derry, Ireland to further enhance the authenticity of the experience of dining in a Irish home, but the real jem is the black gold coming from its taps on the right side of the pub. They have a small but distinguished variety of beers on tap that are usually available in schlocky, trendy New York City bars, Stella, Harp, Bud, etc. Where they distinguish themselves, is with the Guinness.
Joe, the squared jawed lad behind the bar, starts my pint the old fashioned way. He makes me wait for it. Joe may not be Irish but he pours Guinness like an Irishman. He fills the pint three quarters full then sets it aside to settle a bit. The scent of a butter browned shepards pie whirls past. My companion is already a few sips into her black and tan when my completed pint finds its way to me and what a sight to behold.
The last of the cascade is fading away with just enough time for me to appreciate it without longing for the taste for too long. Putting it to my lips is another pleasant surprise. The bitterness of old beer caught in the tap feed is absent, replaced by the velvet touch of fresh dark beer on my tongue. Apparently, people in Maplewood like their Guinness just as much as I do and the St. James Gate Publick House accomadates them nicely.
As the circumstances dictated, I only had time for a few pints, but I look forward to sampling the food when I return. Its the perfect excuse for coming back to visit and putting some more pints away at a pub that obviously takes its Guinness seriously. I’m sure the St. James won’t disappoint me.