Bogota Beer Bar Has Teaneck Roots
Andy's Corner Bar offers host of craft brews
It's a Thursday after work and despite the impressive collection of bourbons and scotches behind the taps at Andy's Corner Bar in Bogota, all the tipplers that line the bar sip beer.
Not just any beer, mind you. Andy's has on tap a collection of craft beers spanning the tri-state region, a smorgasbord of hefeweizens, brown ales, porters, stouts and even cask ales. In a refrigerator to the left of the bar, Andy's has a bottle collection that has allowed the bar for the 18th year in a row to offer 100 beers a year to its loyal customers.
"There is excellent beer here," says regular John Maggi, 40, a Bergenfield cop. "George picks them out for me."
The George Maggi speaks of is George Gray, son of Andy Gray, for whom the bar is named. The elder gray bought the corner bar, which was built in 1949, around 1970. He employed his son to sling drinks.
"I was his slave the first 20 years," laughs the barrel-chested Gray, now 62, who took over the family business around 1990.
The bar Gray took over poured plenty of Newark gold; Budweiser. It attracted hordes of Fairleigh Dickinson University students. Then it got a couple of unusual new neighbors just across Queen Ann Road in Teaneck.
Alby Tarzia, 62, and Bill McKinless, 51, just opened up a store called "The Homebrewery." It sold malt, hops, wheat, tubes and tanks; in short everything anyone would need to brew beer at home.
"We were the first legal homebrew store in the state," McKinless boasts.
The shop attracted customers from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Many of them asked Tarzia and McKinless where they could go in the area for a good pint of craft beer.
This is where the two homebrewers approached their local barkeep, George Gray.
"We told him, 'Get one tap dedicated to something good,'" Tarzia said.
Gray acquiesced, pouring San Francisco-brewed Anchor Steam from one tap. It was drained within a day.
Gray bought a homebrewing kit from his neighbors and developed a fascination with craft beers. Simultaneously, he grappled with advice his late father had given him.
"He said, I was crazy to get into this, that nobody would pay $3 a pint when they could pay 50 cents for a Bud."
Gray took a risk and loaded his bar with craft beers in the early 1990s. Not only did they sell, Gray was thrilled about what they did to his client base.
"I don't know how to put this without sounding offensive," he said. "But craft beers draw a more sophisticated crowd, not as much of the young guys who started fights and caused noise violations."
Along with his wife, Barbara Gray, he would travel the continent and beyond searching for the next outstanding brew he would pour at Andy's.
"It's become a passion for me," Gray said. "I really enjoy craft beers, and I enjoy the people who come in to drink them."
Tucked underneath a blue awning just across the street from a gas station and next to a pizza joint, Andy's Corner Bar has the feel of a modern Irish pub. The bar top is plastic, but the edge of the bar is solid, worn wood; the result of many an elbow.
It draws an eclectic mix of firemen, police officers, white collar and blue collar workers, hippies, college kids and beer aficionados.
Though Andy's doesn't have a kitchen, it carries a full stock of condiments for people who bring in their own snacks.
Speaking of snacks, pints come with a shish-kebob skewer through the middle and a big, Bavarian-style pretzel hanging from the top.
John Holl, who has written extensively about craft beers in New Jersey and co-authored a book due this spring about Indiana breweries, called Andy's a beer oasis. He was particularly excited to taste a rare, Belgian sour beer.
"To see a Flemish beer on tap," he said. "I got excited when I saw it on the website before I came here."
The names of nearly 200 people who have joined Andy's exclusive club, dubbed The Fraternal Order of Foam, hang on a plaque on the back wall. To join the club, one must drink 100 craft beers in a year at Andy's, which runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
Still, many come to Andy's for the socializing as much as for the brews. Helen Maggi, 38, wife of John Maggi, likens the bar's atmosphere to the hit sitcom "Cheers."
"It's like home," she said. "It's like your local tavern that you don't get anymore."