The Fourth of July weekend is usually a busy time for bars and restaurants, but Firkin Tavern was closed this year for the holiday.
Instead of celebrating Independence Day with patrons, the bar-restaurant’s key staff were giving the place some much needed renovations.
Manager Greg Pennypacker said the former Marley’s Ale House Grill and Bar hadn’t had anything major done to it since before owner Brian Liegl (pronounced “Legal”) purchased it in 2004. Liegl spruced up the place with some paint, cleared the back room of storage to make it into a game room, and made some other minor changes when he bought the place, but he did nothing as comprehensive as he did this summer.
Firkin Tavern began life as the Grog Shop, and had several incarnations before Liegl purchased the site.
“It is much more open and welcoming and inviting (now),” Pennypacker said.
Head chef Tommy Haley describes the changes as “night and day.” Prior to the renovations it was hard to see some television sets. Now all 10 big screen televisions can be easily viewed.
The bar’s footprint has doubled. Eight taps were added, giving Firkin a total of 37. A second island was added inside the bar.
They took out the booths that had lined the walls and replaced them with high tops, making the space more flexible overall. The new copper topped bar gives the Firkin Tavern an English pub look.
Many of the 37 beers on tap are craft beers that change on a regular basis. “We try keep up with the current trends of what is most popular. We bring in a lot of ‘one-offs,’ one time kind of things,” Pennypacker said.
Haley and Pennypacker have known each other more than 30 years—since they were 6 or 7 years old playing on the baseball team, which Haley’s father coached. Talking to them is like watching a sporting event where the teammates act as one rather than as a group of individuals.
Each has a specific job to do, such as manager Christopher Makin, who keeps track of the desserts, and Liegl, who is in charge of the beer delivery (and other things).
“We have a young staff here. It is fun, and upbeat. We enjoy our clientele and have good fun with each other,” Pennypacker said. He and Haley are each 38, and with good nature, they tease Liegl who recently turned 40, as being “way older” than they are.
The Firkin Tavern game room features two pool tables, shuffleboard, air hockey and a giant Jenga game. The latter is often on the stage near where the giant screen television set was installed. This game room and bar are only open to patrons over 21. Firkin is also home to league teams in darts and pool.
Haley joined the Firkin Tavern team 14 months ago. For over 15 years prior to that, he owned and operated Haley’s Homemade Sandwiches, also on Parkway Avenue. He started working for FD Subs as a 14-years old student at Notre Dame High School living in Ewing.
After graduating in 1996, he went to The College of New Jersey, still working at the sandwich shop. When he was 21, the opportunity came along for him to own a sandwich shop, so he dropped out of the education program at TCNJ to run his own place. He is a self-taught chef.
“We have a diverse menu,” Haley said. “I like to be creative and do different things, not one certain style. We have some pub food, but there should be something for everyone.”
Pennypacker graduated from Ewing High School in 1996. He started out as a server at Firkin Tavern, and later worked as part-time manager. He left for a few years, but returned when Liegl offered him the job of full-time manager four years ago. He and Haley continue to call Ewing their home.
Liegl spent more than two years living in London. After returning home, he was looking to buy a bar, and, Pennypackers says, “this fell into his lap at the right time.”
Firkin Tavern, 1400 Parkway Ave. Phone: (609) 771-0100.