Beer Trails: Little Falls 381 Main Celebrates Jersey Craft Brewers

An exquisite upscale sports bar, 381 Main sure knows how to throw a great autumnal Saturday beer bash. Inviting every Jersey microbrewery to bring sixtels, kegs or bottles of their finest offerings for a sunny October afternoon shindig proved to be quite successful, as local patrons, eager beer geeks and a host of brewers enjoyed the clean ambience and friendly interaction of this former martini lounge.

During November 2010, owner Steve Baskinger converted his hitherto fluffy white parlor into a sandstone-trimmed, ruddy maroon tavern. He’d already run Woodland Park’s flourishing Bask Bar & Grill for a decade and though he owned 381 Main’s capacious one-room space since ’05, the martini lounge idea ultimately proved limited in its appeal, especially the restrictive nighttime consumer base. The Little Falls native, experienced in all aspects of the bar business, worked as a dishwasher, busboy, and waiter before becoming a cruise ship activities director and then taking a job in the entertainment biz.

“The challenge of making money in this business keeps me going,” Baskinger snickers as I indulge in an easygoing pumpkin-spiced, pie-crusted, crystal-malted River Horse Hippo-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin.

“The difference between the martini bar and my new place is we do food, we’re open seven days per week, and it’s a more lucrative business. We have better hours of operation and better clientele. Even the music’s changed. We have a jukebox now and fresh draft beer,” Baskinger says of his totally redesigned space.

Across from an elevated DJ booth, Addams Family’s black-suited Mortimer welcomes patrons through the front entrance of this pristinely adorned nightclub-like pub. Several hi-def TVs enliven the left side bar, where several college football games capture my attention between conversations. The beautiful bronze-glazed rusted steel countertop complements ample mahogany wood furnishings and liquor shelving. Two ‘big ass’ airplane-winged fans hang from the midst and seasonal pumpkin lanterns light the front two window tables while low-voltage track lighting brightens the 15-seat bar area. Ruddy-hued walls are brought to life by painted sharks, gold record plaques (Jimi Hendrix/Aerosmith/Motley Crue/Limp Bizkit), Rangers and Yankees surfboards and a Jets stingray. For those seeking an outdoor retreat, a gray-partitioned back patio with pre-cast concrete-tiled floors contains a large enough awning to cover a widescreen TV and a few speakers.

Though Coors and Miller Lite regularly outsell Guinness Stout and the four varied craft beers on tap, there has been an increasing awareness of microbrewed product. An efficient food menu includes reasonably priced brick oven pizza, massive burgers, amazing wings and hearty sandwiches. I got to try the bratwurst with sauerkraut while imbibing the tapped version of ethanol-fueled, clay-hopped, peach-orange-fruited Cricket Hill Colonel Blides Altbier.

“Sometimes we might have a daily special for one micro beer,” Baskinger claims. “And we may tweak the aesthetics. But we already have top-of-the-line sound and video systems, high quality liquor and good beer.”

In fact, this initial New Jersey Craft Beer celebration proved to be a very memorable experience. At 1 p.m., 381 Main was filling up. By 2 p.m., the bar was two-deep with enthusiastic guzzlers. The party reached fruition in quite a hurry.

As Michigan State upsets Michigan on TV, I get poured Hoffmann Oktoberfest, an autumn-spiced, leafy-hopped moderation with light citrus illusions crafted by long-time Climax Brewery owner Dave Hoffmann. In comparison, Flying Fish Oktoberfish (10th Anniversary edition) preferred up-front pumpkin spicing to citric leanings. Its astringent grassy-hopped oat toasting embraced the sweet pumpkin pie frontage as well as the ripe apricot-orange glaze.

Some people started gathering at the six windowed side tables across from the bar as I began quaffing impeccable seasonal Ramstein Double Platinum. On tap, its advertised apple-clove spicing takes a backseat to brisk, orange-fruited brightness.

Then came creamy caramel malted, Belgian yeast candied, white-peppered delight River Horse Tripel Horse and another worthy River Horse selection, German dark wheat-styled Dunkelweizen, which brought orange-oiled banana-clove spicing to wintry gingerbread notes. Loaded with just as much creamy caramel-malted dried fruiting was Boaks Two Blind Monks, a Belgian-styled dubbel overlaying candied yeast with fig, prune and raisin imprints.

Originally from North Arlington, Internet marketer John Fladung was key in promoting 381 Main’s craft beer event. Throughout the afternoon, the diligent busybody stopped by the tables and bar to make sure everyone was happy and well served. A long-time beer lover, Fladung boasted about this years’ version of Cricket Hill Nocturne, a peat-smoked, cocoa-powdered, black chocolate-chalked Munich dunkel (dark ale) premiered on tap this crisp autumn day.

Before 3 p.m. arrived, the most anticipated beer of the session was tapped. Since there was only a sixtel of this one-time seasonal available, nearly everyone had their eyes on the three bartenders because they didn’t want to be left out in the cold not getting the chance to investigate the delicious elixir. But the wait was worth it as Carton Pumpkin Cream Ale made quite a splash for the new Atlantic Highlands nanobrewery. A special limited edition brew just right for the fall, its pearly white meringue head covered the gold-hazed body of this creamy, pumpkin-spiced sensation. Cotton candy, lemon meringue, bruised banana and light herbs provided subsidiary illusions above its wet-papered clay hop plasticity.

Whether amassing the working class for after work ‘pops’ or serving the family crowd for early dinners, 381 Main has a lot to recommend. Let’s not forget the symmetrically placed multi-TVs sprawling across the bar encouraging sports fans of all stripes to come on down and have a few nightcaps.