Side order of fun at Sidewinder's

June 21, 1999

By Kurt Epps

Put a few dozen beer geeks in a room with some super pubgrub, add ten quality craft beers, and throw in some raffles, and what do you have? Nothing, unless you add spice in the form of Richie Stolarz as the emcee; then you have the makings of a memorable evening.

Sidewinder's Pub in Garfield, NJ was the host of a June 15 Beers International Fest and the clientele, which included some heavy hitters in the beer world, were willingly infected by Stolarz's laid-back, convivial approach to his favorite subject -- beer.

Poor waitress Doreen Mullarkey must have worked ten pounds off an already svelte frame running around as the sole supplier of food and grog to this merry melange of malt monsters. But Doreen didn't seem to mind the workout, and those she was serving were in too good a mood to complain about anything, an attitude due in large part to the avuncular Stolarz, who not only knew everyone in the room, but made them each feel special. And each of them felt that there was a chance of being very special.

For this was not only a night to sample the hospitality of Dan Fiorito's Sidewinder amenities, but it was also the party at which one lucky sonofagun was going to win an all-expense paid trip to Denver for the 1999 GABF. The hopeful revelers came from far and wide to partake of the fun. Keith Seguine of JJ Bitting's in Woodbridge made the trip, as did Andy Newell, co-owner of Jersey's Flying Fish Brewery. Newell brought with him some giveaway goodies, but none so special as FF's famous Farmhouse Ale, a beer with a sound pedigree and one that did not disappoint.

And though Brewer's Priest Father Larry McCormick wasn't there to provide us with God's blessings for our important work, he sent a higher authority -- his own Dad Jim -- in his place. The Father of Mack, every bit as gregarious as his son, was shepherding an aforementioned Farmhouse Ale to its eternal rest.

The Sidewinder taps held a solid Brooklyn Hefeweizen, a somewhat cloudy, but delicious Ruffian Copper Ale, SA Cherry Wheat, a hearty Stoudt's Fat Dog Stout, a complex Caffrey's Irish Ale, a slightly off-tasting Hempen Gold and an absolutely wonderful Otter Creek Summer Wheat.

Against the backdrop of the beer and food, Stolarz went to work on his raffles, telling us that everything he brought to give away was recently excavated from his own basement after twenty years of serious collecting. Each, he insisted, was a collector's item, and though they knew otherwise, the guests didn't care a whit. They were having too much fun.

The biggest raffle of the night -- the four tickets to the GABF -- went to Pearl River (NY) pub man John O'Connor, who sold the winning ticket to himself. It was the last ticket left in his allotment and he had sold nearly sixty. Some guys have all the luck, apparently, because O'Connor won tickets last year and also won four tickets for selling the winner. But despite not winning the ten-buck-a-pop raffle, no one at the Sidewinder felt shortchanged, because food and drink aside, what makes a beer event is the people involved, and where there's beer, the people are usually pretty nice.

This was a trademark Stolarz event. Once again, he provided the night's most memorable quote. During one giveaway, he announced, "I can't think of an honest way to do this, so I'm going to go dishonest." The audience reaction? Loud applause.

And well deserved, I'd say.

®Kurt E. Epps 1999 All Rights Reserved

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Kurt Epps