TO THE VICTOR(Y) GO THE SPOILS
The Downingtown brewery's renovated restaurant opened on May 7, the new bar features 20 taps, four handpumps and automated growler filler
by Jack Curtin
(Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, June/July 2008)Victory did as Victory does on Wednesday, May 7, reopening its renovated and expanded restaurant with no fanfare and no official celebration, except for the joyous pints being consumed by delighted regulars at the bar from the moment the doors opened at 11:30am and well into the night. Cofounders Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski were on hand, but working as usual, Ron having a quiet business lunch with sales manager Steve German and communications coordinator Anne Shuniak, Bill delivering and handing out to anyone who wanted one copies of "Victory Views," a one-page newsletter which at least paid some attention to the goings-on.
Otherwise, no fuss, no muss.
Which is maybe why, unlike any other brewery project with which I am familiar, the Victory renovation was completed right on schedule, beginning in February with the place still fully open, the space then shrinking weekly as work progressed, until there was just the beloved old long bar and a makeshift cooking area open to the public when the doors were shuttered at the end of March. German-style beers, German-style efficiency, four months and done, as promised, at a cost of $2.6 million.
The now 7,100 square foot space doubles seating capacity to nearly 300 and features 30 new restaurant booths (several of them lining the walls of the long narrow space where the old bar used to be, providing a quieter, more family friendly dining area) and a side room with long table seating and the feel of a traditional beer hall adjacent to the new 50-foot bar on the left. The room can be shut off for private or business events or, as it was opening night, used to accommodate overflow from the bar. It has seating for up to 70 people and has a large projection TV screen which can be rolled down for those events or for baseball or football game crowds. The tables can, and will, be pushed to the walls and pool tables moved in during the week, reaffirming a commitment to retain the original pub's most popular features.
New, and one suspects, going to be a "must-do" for many, is the Brewmaster's Table, accommodating 12 to 15 diners and topped with a vintage copper dome from an old German brewing tank. It is located in the right corner of the rear wall where the bar now resides and was scheduled to open in late May. There are two other copper brewhouse tops from old German breweries over the bar area.
Rich wood paneling and soothing colors, along with an impressive collection of beer trays and cans from historic Pennsylvania breweries mounted on the walls, make the vast interior space more inviting than the previous incarnation, but the high, industrial ceilings (the site was once a Pepperidge Farms baking plant) remain. "We can't cover that up," said Covaleski adamantly, "it's part of the character of the place which we wanted to retain."
The greatly expanded kitchen (and if there was one thing the old Victory structure obviously demanded, it was a larger kitchen) has had to sacrifice the original, hand-built brick pizza ovens but has offset that loss with an in-house smoker to create authentic barbeque--brisket, chicken, pastrami and salmon paired with sauces made with Golden Monkey, Storm King Stout, or HopDevil. The menu retains many of the old favorites (I scarfed down the wonderful jerk chicken grinder on opening day to remind myself that the more things change, the more they stay the same) along with some newer items.
There were 21 beers on draught at the bar ("normally, we hope to always have 15-20 beers on, that's the plan," said Barchet), which poured from the 20-line bar tower and, in the case of the last-minute 21st addition, Abbey 6, Victory's Belgian Pale Ale, from one of the 20 services taps at either end of the bar. That's 60 taps in all, usually three lines for each beer available to insure faster service throughout the restaurant. Two cask ale stations with a pair of handpumps at each are set up behind the bar as well, along with (not yet operating on opening day) an automated Austrian growler filler which performs its task much like a regular bottling line, filling the glass to the top quickly and adding CO2 to help it maintain freshness. It is designed to handle the large flip-top growlers which will now be the only ones sold at brewery; standard screw-top growlers will still be filled by hand.
Among the special beers on tap for the opening were the two Braumeister Pils and Sapphire Belgian Strong Ale brewed for the 2008 Craft Brewers Conference (see "Eastern Pennsylvania" column) and a brand new beer I was personally quite taken with, WildDevil, Victory's best-selling HopDevil IPA with just enough Bretamyacin added to give it a new tangy sour edge. Two others I didn't try but plan to like a dutiful homeboy if I can get back before they disappear, were Sunnybrook Auburn, a Vienna Lager, and Sunnybrook Blonde, Kolsch-like ale. They both support the Sunnybrook Foundation in my current home town of Pottstown, which is trying to revitalize the historic Sunnybrook Ballroom as an historic landmark (the short-lived Ortlieb's Brewery & Grille operated from there until Henry Ortlieb's untimely death in a boating accident in July 2004).
In addition to WildDevil, I had the Braumeister Keller Pils, Sapphire Belgian Ale and a Ten Years Alt. And Uncle Teddy's Bitter from a cask was an ideal accompaniment to my sandwich. All in all, a most victorious day.
For the Record: Expanded hours of operation came with the renovations, with lunch served everyday from 11:30am to 3pm and Saturday and Sunday opening at 10am (Saturday and Sunday brunch was initiated in mid-May). Closing at midnight Monday through Saturday, 10pm on Sunday. Victory Brewing opened in 1996 and produced 55,000 barrels of beer last year. It is the 50th largest brewery in the country (35th among craft breweries) and sells its beer in 18 states.
Copyright (c) 2008 Jack Curtin
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