Jason Janawsky, Co-Owner, Bronx Ale House

by Andrew Piccone

Tell me about your job.
I spend the majority of my time here. I do a lot of front of the house managing work. I do all the scheduling and design the menus, basically the whole appearance of the place. The bar’s been open since August 2009, I’ve been here since the beginning. It took us nine months to build the place, we bought in November of 2008. Before this I owned an irrigation business on Long Island. I decided to sell it; I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I met my partner here, Drew, and got into the business with him. From there, I don’t know, here I am.

What were some of the difficulties you encountered in opening the bar?
Just the hurdles of building it, construction, renovation. We took over an old Irish bar, we ripped everything out of it and we had basically a skeleton, we threw everything out in it. We had to get permits for everything, from the buildings department, any department in the city you can think of. That was a huge hurdle getting through all that stuff, took us about nine months. Once we were open, well we are in the Bronx, but before we settled here we had been looking in Manhattan. The availability of this space was what brought us here, to Kingsbridge. We saw a couple places in Manhattan, and someone tipped us off about this spot. I’m from Long Island so the first thing I thought was ‘Bronx? I don’t know.’ The only time I had been to the Bronx was to go to Yankee Stadium. I checked out the neighborhood, I was still a bit wary about it. Everyone was on board so I figured I should definitely go for it.

The Bronx isn’t known for its beer or foodie culture. How have you been received so far?
Right off the bat we’ve been received pretty well. As soon as we opened people would come in and see our beer selection and say ‘what is this?’ But people responded very well, they got over the Bud Lights and the mixed drinks and were pretty open minded about trying something new. We’re not trying to convert the Bronx to a bunch of beer snobs, just give them something different. People come in all the time and ask for a Bud and ask about all the other stuff we have on draft. If someone likes Bud I might suggest a Gaffel Koelsch, a German beer. Then they might drink the Gaffel Koelsch and then try something else new. Our reviews have been pretty great so far on Yelp and whatnot. We’ve got a decent local crowd of people from Kingsbridge and Riverdale. It’s just getting better and better, we’re getting more people from Northern Manhattan right off the 1 train, we’re close to the Metro North, we’re getting people coming down from Westchester, from Yonkers, some Yankee Stadium traffic. It’s convenient for a lot of people. We did a Groupon recently and we had people coming up from Brooklyn, even.

Were you into beer culture before starting the bar?
I kind of jumped into it by opening a beer bar. I wasn’t a Bud Light guy, but beer culture is continuing to grow and people all over the place are starting to try new stuff and it just keeps getting bigger. Maybe you could call me a Bud Light guy, I am from Long Island. My favorite beer now is probably La Fin du Monde, a Canadian beer. There’s always new stuff coming out, I’m always trying beers that I like more and more so it’s hard to keep track. My favorite type of beer is probably IPA, and a lot of it depends on the season.

Your menu is a bit more upscale than most bar food, what went into creating that?
We are a beer bar, we’re not a restaurant. Our idea is that we’re a beer bar and the food comes with the beer, not the other way around. We started out more average pub food, still a bit more upscale. Now we have a great guy who works for us, Eric, our chef, he worked at the Mandarin Oriental for a while. Now he’s up here and he’ll experiment, have some fun with it. He came from a high end restaurant to here so he’s taking our style of food and making it gradually more upscale. We run with everything, we let him try what he wants, experiment in the kitchen. We’re starting brunch back up next week and he’s getting very creative with the brunch menu. We do specials everyday, today it’s chicken Souvlaki, recently it was a stuffed burger with Brie. We’ve got a downtown chef uptown. We’re very lucky.

Any plans for a second Bronx Ale House?
We’ve been talking about it. We’re pretty established now that we’re getting to where we could go and do another one. What happens to a lot of people they open up something and it’s successful right off the bat and they feel like they gotta open something new as soon as possible. They’ll forget about the original place. You can’t spread yourself too thin. We could almost say we’re getting to that place. I don’t want to open 10 of them, but I could do a couple more.

What are some of your favorite food and beer spots when you’re not here?
Outside here? I live in Astoria now, there’s a good place there called Sweet Afton which, I wouldn’t really call it a hipster crowd, but it’s a good crowd, good drink menu, good food. The other spot I really like is Irish Rover, which is a typical Irish bar. As far as Manhattan, probably my partner’s other bars, which are The Dead Poet and George Keeley’s. That would really be it, I mean I check out the other beer bars, I’ll go to the beer garden in Astoria, a good reason to look forward to spring.

What advice do you have for people getting into this business?
If you want to do something; go for it. Don’t give up. It’s not easy to open a bar. If you want it, just go for it. Come up with a good idea, work hard at it, and the money will follow. Opening this place was so hard and there were so many hurdles to go through and at times it was so discouraging. But we weren’t going to give up. Don’t expect it to open tomorrow. Be realistic. Don’t give up.

Did you watch the State of the Union on Tuesday night?
Yeah, well I DVR’d it and watched half of it, I haven’t gotten a chance to watch the whole thing yet. I’m a Democrat, I would say the President is on the right track. He’s got a good mindset. What people don’t realize is that he can’t make a decision and just run with it, you’ve got to go through the Senate and the House and what have you. With Arizona and all of this stuff, I think staying positive is the best thing right now and I’m hoping for the best.

Andrew Piccone is a photographer in New York.