You will not be seeting a craft beer menu like Bangers & Lace's at the Anthem. (Photo courtesy Bangers & Lace)
For Matt Eisler, a big part of growing up in River Edge, N.J., in the 1970s was recreational sports. Eisler and his three business partners, the group behind Bangers & Lace, had retro recreation in mind when creating their newest venture: the Anthem, a sports bar at the corner of Division and Hermitage set to open early next month. The word “rec” even makes an appearance in the Anthem’s logo.
Occupying the home of what used to be Fuel and then Makisu — two restaurant/bars that failed within their first years — the Anthem has some unstable shoes to fill. Eisler, however, doesn’t think the failure has to do with the space.
“There are a lot of reasons why concepts and businesses don’t work, but it’s not the location,” he said. “It’s a great corner and a great space.”
With the success of Bangers & Lace, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, Eisler and partners Kevin Heisner, Nick Podesta and Jason Freiman seem to understand what the neighborhood needs.
“It’s geared toward the same type of people as Bangers & Lace,” Eisner said, “but it provides a vastly different experience.”
The four, who all live in Wicker Park, want the place to stand on its own, “even if it had no TVs or sports component. We want the food and music and design to be substantial enough that people go, regardless of whether there are any games on.”
The design is inspired by nostalgia, of a time “before athletes made hundreds of millions of dollars, when young people played sports because they really loved them,” Eisler said.
Behind the bar will be salvaged high-school lockers and a painted green chalkboard, and a 16-foot American flag dating to the late 1800s will be on display (Heisner found it at a Brooklyn thrift store). Wood paneling on the walls and TVs — four 50-inch and two projection — will make the space feel like your parents’ basement (well, minus five of the TVs).
The food will also have a retro vibe, complete with a daily special TV dinner, a bento box of a main course, such as meatloaf, two sides and a dessert. And the menu, created by Bangers & Lace chef Adam Wendt, will take customers back to their childhoods with items such as cheese doodles, made from pork rinds and cheddar dust, and Wendt’s version of packaged cheese and crackers: homemade butter crackers, a beer cheese spread and, yes, a little red stick to spread the cheese on.
Don’t expect to see a massive craft beer list like Bangers & Lace’s, however.
“We don’t want to compete with ourselves,” Eisler said. There will be a few craft beers, all in cans, but the beer program on the whole is “more blue collar: domestic, a lot of cans and draft beer.” They’ll have Budweiser, “heavy and light.”
“It’s more like throwback Americana,” he said.