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June 30, 1999

By Kurt Epps

The Shepherd and the Knucklehead seemed an unlikely name for a pub, especially in New Jersey, but it came highly recommended by that human monsoon of Belgian beer, Steve Gale. "The guy takes pride in his beers," Gale told me, "and treats them preciously. The two best beers I had in all of 1998 came from his taps."

That (plus an assignment from Tony Forder) prompted me and two SubScouts -- "Belgian Bob" DePow and "Irish" Joe Britton, two devotees of fine brew -- to make the trek to Haledon, NJ.

Walking into this former shot and beer joint, the eye is arrested by a long, brightly lit overhead sign with a Shepherd on one side and a court jester (the Knucklehead, I astutely assumed) on the other. But beneath the pubıs name was a phrase: Celebrating the duality of man. Pretty heady stuff for a beer bar, I thought as I headed in.

Upon entering, however, my first thought was to head out. The place is small, cramped even. Its main source of illumination is a large Rolling Rock Beer Bottle, which cast a garish green pall over every one and everything. A quick scan revealed a group of guys and couple girls fixated on a TV soccer game, but eventually my eyes were drawn to the bar. There, twenty taps of some of the finest beers around were waiting to be pulled, and a keg of something was sitting on top of the bar next to a hand pump.

I asked the barman to direct me to Chris Schiavo with whom I had arranged an interview. Schiavo, a business and finance major in college, invited us to try what was kegged while we waited for him to complete an animated conversation with a patron.

The kegged stuff was Swale's India Pale Summer Ale, and as reticent barman Russell Staines drew off three pints, I had the feeling this might be a short night.

I was wrong.

Nearly three hours later my compatriots and I were still sampling beers like Tupper's Hop Pocket, Young's Double Chocolate Stout, Beamish Irish Stout, Lindemann's Framboise and smoking the most exceptional two-dollar cigar any of us had ever had.

But what kept us there -- besides the incredible array of fresh beers, of course -- was an ongoing discovery process about this unusual place and its fascinating owner, Chris Schiavo. The Shepherd and the Knucklehead is the only pub (to my knowledge) that is also a real book -- nearing completion and ready for publication -- and Schiavo is the author. Itıs a book about Oliver Wendell Tweed -- a character who often makes wrong choices in life, and his levelheaded, stable, secure friend, a monkey named Sir Francis Bacon.

To anyone with a hint of intellect and a cursory knowledge of literature, jurisprudence and history, the duality of man theme becomes immediately clear. And a quick perusal of the bar will reveal both characters even more clearly.

Schiavo, who discovered the day after he graduated college, that he had not "used the right side of his brain" at all, is making up for lost time. The Shepherd and the Knucklehead is now the site of poetry readings, short story excerpts and open mike performances that are "jammed even in the summer" recalling those halcyon days of the Algonquin Hotel meetings of the literati in New York. Schiavo even hosts a weekly Sunday night "Algonquin Society" at which participants debate current hot button issues while quaffing drafts of some of the worldıs finest beers. The result translates to "a pint (not a penny) for your thoughts."

Claiming he can "smell" intelligence, Schiavo, a Jack Kerouac fanatic, longs for the intellectual excitement of places like Chumleyıs and the White Horse (famous literary and artistic gathering places) and has molded his pub along those lines.

Nor is he done yet. He has grand plans to acquire the adjacent property in order to expand his pub into a more performance-based mecca for thinkers and artists, many of whom hail from nearby William Paterson College.

Talk about duality! Schiavo clearly seeks to quench more than a thirst for liquid here.

Does Schiavo seek a drinking thinker or a thinking drinker -- or both? The Shepherd, the Knucklehead or the combination that is each of us? Go. Have a Boddingtonıs, an Ayinger Celebrator or a Corsendonk's Monk's Brown. Listen to Dan read Poe's Raven.

Understand why a garish green light from a Rolling Rock sign works here. And why you'll be back.

The Shepherd and the Knucklehead
529 Belmont Avenue
Haledon, NJ
973-790-9657

®Kurt E. Epps 1999 All Rights Reserved

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