On a sticky afternoon last week, the front door of the bar at the corner of Merrick Avenue and Garfield Street in Merrick was cracked open by a planter. At nearly 3 p.m., a lone customer nursed a pint of Founder's. "I've known this bar for a long time," he said.
So did John T. Amaruso— though he mostly recalls when the spot was called Johnny's Place, from about 1996 to 2002, because that's when his parents owned and ran it. "This has been a bar since 1951," said Amaruso, ticking off the names with his customer: Joe's Cocktail Lounge, Good Time Charlie's, Menna's Main Event.
Amaruso, who grew up in Merrick, returned from living in Miami to launch his own bar here: Bourbon & Brews, a convergence of the building's DNA with his own career as a bartender. Opened in August, it's a rustic, polished grotto of exposed rafters, exposed brick and lots of wood, from floors to bar to blinds.
After Menna's Main Event closed, Amaruso leased the spot and tore up the floor, pulled down the drop ceiling and refurbished the bar, all while tending another bar in Bay Shore at night. "I think we have the second longest bar in Merrick," Amaruso said, and it clocks in at 39 feet. Behind it is 16 taps, some pouring local brews such as Montauk Brewing's Wave Chaser IPA, another hooked to Guinness, another to Bud Light.
Amaruso is still building out the bourbon collection, and there are 30 so far, from standard-bearers like Jack Daniel's to craftier spirits such as Few and Michter's. Some land in cocktails such as The Sweet Emotion, a blend of Four Roses Bourbon with lemon, mint, tomato and pineapple, then finished with salt and pepper.
One whiskey here, Skrewball, has a distinct peanut butter profile that has inspired some of the hearty tavern bites, such as a grilled sandwich of bourbon peanut butter and banana slices on Texas Toast called the B&B.
By the time 4:30 rolled around, a wave of regulars was building, sipping pints as they sat near a sign in he wall that reads, "I followed my heart and it led me to the bar."
Bourbon & Brews, 361 Merrick Ave., Merrick. 516-544-4797, bourbonbrewbar.com.