Peter Johnson and Emil Lanne talk about opening Campground in Sea Cliff. Their craft beer bottle shop has a bar on the first floor and a game room on the second floor. Credit: Linda Rosier

Pete Johnson describes Sea Cliff’s Campground craft beer market as “half bottle shop, half bar, half beer-nerd palace,” which undersells its selection of deep-cut brews and a singular vibe that is both hip and family-friendly.

Johnson moved to Sea Cliff in 2016, Emil Lanne in 2019 and, as both of them were employed as advertising creative directors, neither was looking for a side hustle. But two years ago, Lanne was walking his dog past the abandoned G & H Auto Repairs on Sea Cliff Ave., the village’s main drag, and thought “it would be cool to have a beer store in that place.” (The name "Campground" honors the town's origins as a seasonal Methodist camp that became a vacation destination.)

He and Johnson were both fledgling beer geeks and had found nowhere in the vicinity whose selection went beyond mass-market brews. Turns out, New York State doesn’t issue beer-store licenses, only tavern licenses, which cover the selling of cans and bottles as well as the serving on the premises. So the plan shifted to include beers on tap, seats, tables and counters.

Craft beer for sale at Campground in Sea Cliff.

Craft beer for sale at Campground in Sea Cliff. Credit: Linda Rosier

Then they learned that if they were serving beer, they would have to serve food. But they could not cook food, only reheat food. So they hooked up with Nelly’s Empanadas, a fixture at the Glen Cove farmers market, plus Sigmund’s Pretzels and Brooklyn Piggies (in blankets) from New York City. They also began sourcing packaged snack foods with the same zeal that governed their beer research: Highlights include Albina City Sweet & Salty Hazelnuts, Pop Daddy Hot Sauce Pretzel Sticks and Siete Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.

At some point, they decided that while they were renovating the garage, they might as well attack the towing facility directly behind it. “It took two weeks just to get the grease off the floor,” Johnson recalled. Unlike the front room — which reads Brooklyn hipster — this area, up a flight of stairs, is more of a family rec room with vintage arcade games such as Pac-Man, pinball and foosball.  On weekends, he said, “it’s like a stroller parking lot outside.” (Johnson and Lanne hope to turn that parking lot into a proper beer garden, come spring.)

But the soul of Campground has remained the beer. Johnson and Lanne hired Sean McCalmont, manager of Sid’s All American in Glen Cove and a bona fide beer expert, to be chief curator and he has brought in an ever-rotating selection of cult beers from very near (Garvies Point in Glen Cove) to pretty near (Grimm Ales and Keg & Lantern in Brooklyn, Kills Boro in Staten Island) to sorta far (Lamplighter and Rupee in Massachusetts). There are a few hundred bottles and cans in the refrigerated cases and about 10 on tap. You can see tap selections online and if there's something you like, don’t dawdle. “Once a keg has kicked,” Lanne said, “another one takes its place.” Recent appearances have been made by Fog Nog IPA from Abomination Brewing Company, Watercolors Christmas Creamee from Skygazer and Prana Helles Lager from Sand City.

Teddi Parra, with her children, Ayden, 5, and Madyson, 8,...

Teddi Parra, with her children, Ayden, 5, and Madyson, 8, and Beke Pickard, play Jenja upstairs in the play area at Campground in Sea Cliff. Credit: Linda Rosier

As advertising executives, Lanne and Johnson are accustomed to working to please their clients and it’s been rewarding for both to be their own clients, needing to satisfy only their own tastes and desires. “I’m so proud of what we’ve done here,” Johnson said. “I want to put it in my portfolio.”

Campground is open Monday to Thursday from 3 to 11 p.m. and Friday to Sunday noon to 11 p.m. at 208 Sea Cliff Ave., Sea Cliff, 516-407-3153‬, campgroundbeer.com

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