As this issue goes to press, a new eating and drinking establishment is opening its doors in downtown Poughkeepsie, just a few blocks’ walk from Waryas Park and the Metro North station in one direction and the Bardavon and the Civic Center in the other. The brainchild of some familiar New Paltz faces, the Zeus Brewing Company brings fresh beer and nouveau-rustic Italian fare crafted on-premises to a stunning space in the Queen City Lofts, a newly constructed mixed-use building at 178 Main Street.
The fact that the site is diagonally opposite the Cunneen-Hackett Building, once the mansion of brewing magnate Matthew Vassar, is purely coincidental, says co-owner Glenn Phillips. A retired pilot who lives in New Paltz, Phillips is well-known in the community for his civic involvement, including stints on the board of the Youth Center and the Local Emergency Planning Committee; in recent years, he has been organizing mission trips to Uganda for the Reformed Church. But he wanted a business venture to keep him occupied as well, so he brainstormed with his daughter-in-law Bethany, who worked with his son Jeremy to get the two Schatzi’s restaurants, in Poughkeepsie and New Paltz, off the ground.
When the developer of Queen City Lofts offered the Phillipses first dibs on three high-ceilinged commercial spaces on the building’s ground floor, they jumped at the chance. The clincher to the deal was exclusive elevator access for Zeus customers to a penthouse with Hudson River views that span from the Hudson Highlands to the Catskills. Construction begins soon on a rooftop bar, scheduled to open by May. “The sunsets are going to be awesome up here,” says Glenn.
“Poughkeepsie is such an up-and-coming city. We knew we wanted to create a brewpub in the city, and we figured this was the time to do this,” notes Bethany, a Modena native who has spent much of her life working in restaurants. Most recently she has been dividing her time between a sales job and parenting her and Jeremy’s two-year-old son Grayson, who inspired the new brewpub’s name. “We didn’t want to share his name before he was born,” Bethany explains. So, just for fun, the couple began to speak of their expected offspring as Baby Zeus. “He weighed ten pounds and was 22 inches long, so he really came out like a Baby Zeus,” she laughs.
Any allusions to classical Greek myths in the design of the space don’t go much further than the typeface used in the signage. The business’ logo in an upper-case Z enclosed in a lightning bolt. You’ll see that motif replicated on the 20 taps behind the 25-foot-long faux-marble bar, which seats up to 16, in the main dining room. Bethany describes the décor, by Mill Road Design, as having “a chic industrial feel. That’s what I wanted.” Directly across from the bar is a patio for al fresco dining, set off by a half-wall from the Main Street sidewalk. Six steps up lead to a private dining area and access to the kitchen, restrooms and elevator to the rooftop.
At the eastern end of the long space stands a gleaming row of stainless steel tanks where the brewing actually happens. Masterminding the process is head brewer Amit Ram, who began learning his trade at Negev Brewing in Israel. He returned to the US in 2012 for an internship at the Cape Ann Brewing Company in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he met his wife, a Poughkeepsie native. Moving with her to the Hudson Valley, he worked for a couple of years at Newburgh Brewing and most recently was head brewer at the Peekskill Brewery. “Our goal is to make world-class fresh beer and serve it in an awesome environment,” Ram says.
A brewpub, he notes, is a “traditional access point to craft beer. So we have to offer a range of products.” Newbies who need to be weaned off mass-produced American beer brands might be enticed by his accessible Zeus Lager or Queen City Pils. For IPA fanciers, Dragon Light Hazy Pale Ale spotlights assertive Motueka hops from New Zealand, and Zeus IPA is a citrusy New England style that should please fans of Sloop Brewing’s popular Juice Bomb. Another current offering is Urban Oasis Fruited Sour Ale, redolent of raspberry and tart cherry. After testing a flight, this correspondent’s clear favorite was the coffee-flavored Room for Milk Stout, reminiscent of Keegan Ales’ heavyweight standby Mother’s Milk.
Kegs of the abovementioned products – all of them unfiltered, incidentally – have already been in distribution to bars and restaurants throughout the mid-Hudson and Capital District for about a month now, says Glenn. Zeus has acquired a “crowler” machine to package its brews in 32-ounce recyclable containers as well. According to Ram, the beer selection will expand over time and vary with the season and with demand. “We aim to have nimble flexibility,” he says. Glenn adds that a few of the taps will be devoted to other local microbrews and at least one cider. Presiding over the bar is Rob Von Bergen, longtime bar manager at Schatzi’s in Poughkeepsie; he’ll be co-managing the entire operation with Paige Carson, recruited from Mill House Brewing.
And then there’s the food, produced under the supervision of CIA-trained executive chef Joe Kirtland, who has been cooking for both Schatzi’s operations over the past three years. Kirtland credits a breadbaking apprenticeship in New Hampshire, where he had to learn to cope with the vagaries of temperature of a woodfired stone oven in a barn, with his expertise in pizzamaking. The kitchen at Zeus is equipped with a gas-fired ceramic pizza oven where gourmet pies can be flash-cooked at 750 degrees.
These are not your average pizzeria pizzas; they’re individual servings, topped with creative combinations of ingredients that might include shiitake mushrooms, shrimp, Calabrian chili rings, pistachios, fried chicken, maple syrup or hot honey. At present there are eight red and six white versions. Pasta is locally manufactured, served 11 different ways from classic to highly imaginative. A variety of small plates and salads are also available. While the beermaking operation is not a “farm brewery” and obtains its grains, hops and yeasts wherever necessary to replicate beer styles from all over the world, the kitchen will rely as much as possible on locally sourced ingredients.
Parking for the Zeus Brewing Company is available both on-street (metered until 6 p.m.) and in a municipal lot near Cunneen-Hackett. The restaurant will open at 4 p.m. during opening week and at noon beginning January 13, except on Tuesdays, when it will open at 3 p.m. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m., while the bar will stay open until 11. For reservations for groups and parties, call (845) 320-4560. To learn more, visit www.zeusbrewingco.com.