by Max Cea
When The Local Taphouse of Nyack opened up shop on North Franklin last March, Nyack was not wanting for another bar. Owner Travis Koester, 29, who had previously worked at Bourbon Street, likely knew this; he was well-acquainted with the nightlife congestion along Main Street. And though he didn’t have a clear vision for what he wanted the bar to be a year from its opening, he knew how it would be different. It would be divey, and he would serve craft beer. It’s been a successful formula. In spite of — or perhaps partially because of — its off-the-beaten-path location, The Local has attracted a young, loyal crowd — a decidedly different one than you might see fist-pumping at Pour House on a Saturday Night. The Local’s minimal decor (a nintendo, a chalk board, a giraffe on a skateboard) is charming, as is its staff. And perhaps it’s because of its prosaic name that The Local has managed to feel as though it has been in Nyack for much longer than a year.
This Saturday, March 19, The Local Taphouse of Nyack celebrates its one-year anniversary. I spoke with owner Travis Koester about the bar, business and craft beer.
What was the inspiration for the Local?
I wanted something that was somewhere I’d want to go. There’s really nothing in Nyack that’s like crappy and kitschy and comfortable. Nothing too warm. A little hole in the wall that’s almost more of a hybrid, because I love craft beer but I also like going to regular bars. I don’t really like going to craft beer bars because they’re pretentious and not as down to Earth. And that’s the way I hired my bartenders. I hired them by their personality. I can train personalities how to bartend.
How’s it gone so far?
Great. Financially, I’m way ahead of where I thought I was going to be at this time, which is very good.
It feels like it fits pretty well into the Nyack community.
Yeah, ironically enough I get a lot of locals. I get a lot of the industry crowd, so people who’re coming off of work, they come by here.
Have you incorporated anything from Nashville [where he briefly went to college]?
No. But what I have done is every two or three months I take a trip out to a different city, and I just start hitting all their breweries and their bars and seeing what they’re doing out there, and pulling little pieces of everywhere. My friends ask why I don’t just look at everything around here, and I say, ‘I know what’s going on around here. I know what’s going on in the city and everything. But Colorado or San Diego or Portland, they could be doing something that’s crazy, and you’d never even think of.’ Something as simple as our chalk board — people just sit there and draw on that chalk board and they love it.
Are there any specific ideas that you want to implement going forward?
One thing I want to do, growing up in Virginia I learned a lot about history. The Civil War started April 12, 1861, so I want to do a Civil War type thing for that week. So take four draft lines from the confederacy and four draft lines from the union states and two from the border states — and I’ve got to figure out the structuring of it — but let people decide who’s going to win. The idea would be to see who has better beer.
Who do you side with?
Well unfortunately I grew up south of the Mason Dixon Line, but the Union has California and Colorado, which is a no-brainer.
I’d think that there would be some good ones in places like Brooklyn too.
In the past three or four years, it’s basically doubled. It used to be like 2,500, now there’s about 5,000 breweries [in the United States]. That’s a huge jump in three years. Little breweries are popping up everywhere.
Why do you think that is?
There’s a bubble right now. Though some states don’t have any because they have weird taxes. Texas is like that. They don’t have any in Texas.
I think it’s because it was just the time. Sam Adams paved the way, with Sierra Nevada right behind it. And people were tired of drinking Bud and Bud Light, which are still the biggest.
What does the best for you guys?
The double IPAs sell the best. But I like challenges. I like taking something that’s really good that no one’s heard of and making it sell more.
What’s an example of that?
For liquor, liquor has a heavier branding aspect to it. So Casamigos hit — I think a year or two ago — it’s George Clooney’s brand of tequila. It’s excellent. It’s so much better than Patron. But no one knows of it. So at first I was selling so much more Patron than I was Casamigos, so I just kept working it into the system, pushing it at people who were interested in tequila. So now I hardly sell any Patron and I sell a lot of Casamigos.
Can you talk about the bar’s evolution from conception to now?
To be honest I’m not even sure what the concept really was at the beginning. I know I wanted to cater to everyone. And I do. It’s kind of fallen along the path that I wanted it to. A lot of the ways that I market and do stuff have changed. A lot of little stupid things that would probably offend other people have worked. Like somebody, for example, carved ‘Fuck Shannon’ into my bathroom wall this past fall. So I posted it online and told people not to do things like this. All of a sudden it generated so much foot traffic online. And it’s turned into a limited edition t-shirt that we’re making. And the girl Shannon, I spoke to her about it, and she was the one who told me we should make t-shirts. So it’s stupid little things. I didn’t expect to have t-shirts so quickly. I have a friend who works at Disney World, and she sent me a picture with someone she found wearing a Local t-shirt.
What drew you to this space?
Availability. It was the space that got the ball rolling.
Do you want to expand?
It’s a thought. One of the things that I would like to do is to buy the building and blow out these walls and do an indoor courtyard with these walls, and then if it wasn’t too much of an engineering feet, make it so I could pull in food trucks and hard wire them straight to the building. If I could expand a little bit I could put in shuffle board or ski ball or something like that. Maybe a very small 5X5 kitchen that just does hot dogs.
Did you have any mentors who were helping you along?
I’ve worked at a few places and know a few guys who own bars. Brian from Bourbon Street I’ve been very good friends with for years. There are a lot of things I would turn to him and ask him for advice. I think the biggest challenge of this entire thing is not dealing with the bar itself. It’s dealing with the people in the bar and the people who work for me. That’s a whole different ballgame.
How’d you decide on the name and the giraffe?
For the name, we were sitting there dicing things out. We were thinking about ‘The Social’ and stuff like that. And then I was just sitting there doodling out the names in different fonts, and then it came to me. Like ‘The Local,’ with a period behind it. And it actually looked good. And that’s how we decided. And if we decided to expand, you could do it anywhere.
The giraffe — I’m going to level with you on this one — I was really high one day. I posted something on Instagram and I hashtagged giraffe sign. Giraffes were just like a random thing on it. And when we were doing the boards, the girl who was drawing the boards for me asked what I wanted to put there. And I said, “Just draw giraffes, put #Giraffes for now.” And then the girl’s boyfriend noticed that giraffes kind of sound like drafts. So that’s how I came up with half-off giraffes. Long neck bottles. And then coincidentally, the bar kind of looks like a giraffe. It’s like giraffe colors. And it’s had a huge snowball effect. And it just works. People buy me giraffe stuff now.
Do you have any interesting stories of things that have happened at the bar? Any highlights?
The hot dog eating contest. It was in early August. We’re going to do it every year. I had a very good turnout for it. Sponsored by Cony Island Brewery. I don’t know if there’re any specific events that should be spoken of. I like to keep what happens in the bar in here.
Have there been things that have made you feel this is why I’m doing this?
Every night that people are in here having a good time. That’s why I do it. I guess it gives my life some sort of meaning. Lifting other people up.
by Max Cea
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