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Hearth's Resident Beer Geek David Flaherty

[Krieger, 10/15/10]

When he’s not running the door at Hearth in the East Village, manager David Flaherty is brewing beer in his apartment and writing about his findings on his blog, Grapes & Grains. Lately these two worlds have become one in the same: he’s the man in charge of the beer program at Hearth and the two Terroir restaurants, working to enhance the interactive dining experience that Marco Canora and Paul Grieco have built up over the last six years. If you want to bypass the line on a busy night, bribe him with a microbrew.

It's 8 PM on a Saturday night, what's the wait for a table? Usually the reservations are pretty booked, but we are fluid especially for two people. We have Terroir for the spillover, so if you can’t get right in, throw a baseball 80 feet, you’re at Terroir and we’ll get you back here for dinner in 20 minutes or a half an hour.

Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? Any cash or gifts to speed things along? I accept microbrews. If it’s a large format, that’s even better. If there’s a cork in the top? You’re getting a table.

Tell us about your favorite customers. The customers that are open to trying new things and want to learn. We are such geeks in terms of our ingredients and our beverages — we can go on for hours. So, if someone comes in with a passion to delve into that world, we’re going to pair things with ciders and beers and cocktails and wines, we’re going to take you on a journey that you’re not going to have anywhere else. It’s just a treat. Any celebs? Yes. Well, they’ll never come back if I tell you who!

What’s the most outrageous request that you’ve accommodated? One of the more unique nights when I was a floor manager was when we had booked a wine versus beer dinner, we had to cancel it at the last minute, and a guest did not get the voicemail and showed up. Instead of saying “We don’t have the dinner,” we said, “You know what? We’ll do it for you.” So I did the beer, another server did the wine, and we created this six-course meal for them during the middle of a crazy weekend service. And then, same night, we had another party that came in and also didn’t get the message, and we did it for them too.

What’s the most outrageous request that you could not accommodate? We have such an arsenal of food and beverages that we’ll accommodate anything if we have the capability to get there. The only thing that we can’t do is a busload of 30 Japanese tourists that show up at 8PM on a Saturday. Has that ever happened? I did have a call one night for 28 tourists in a bus that wanted to be here in an hour, and in terms of the space that was something that I really couldn’t control.

Tell us about your involvement with the spirits list. When I took over the beer program seven months ago there were about eight beers on every list. Now we have three separate beer lists, thirty selections at each location, changing with the seasons and the markets. I’m the bar manager at Hearth as well, so I do all of the ordering. We have a great team of mixologists, we love to focus on artisan producers for the spirits, all of the juices are made in house and all of the syrups are made by our pastry chef.

How does your work at Hearth relate to your beer blog? It’s so hand in hand. I love to have producers come in, show us what they’re working on and taste it, take my own notes, go home and write about it. I’m in a geeky beer group, so whatever I'm tasting with them might end up on draft at Tribeca the next week.

Do you bottle anything yourself? Yeah. We don’t sell it, we don’t make enough to sell it, but we give it as gifts. We just got done doing a green chile Saison where we roasted the chiles on our little Barbie kitchen stovetop and put those in the boil of the beer so it gives it this amazing fresh chile flavor that accents the lemon taste of the Saison.

How do Marco and Paul feel about your blogging? The funny thing is that for a while I don’t think they knew about it. But as the years have gone on, I’ve written about Paul and some of the experience we’ve had here. The thing that’s awesome about Marco and Paul is that any passion that any of their people have, they’ll foster it and make it stronger.

When you’re not here, where are you eating? I've got my neighborhood favorites. What’s great about Astoria is that there are so many great kinds of restaurants. I’m also fortunate to go to a lot of friends and family dinners — stuff like that. So I don’t think I go to any one restaurant a lot, but I'm always trying new things.

What’s your most important gatekeeper tool? Passion and openness. To be totally honest, I think it’s more of a character trait than anything else. You have to have confidence in what you’re offering and also, you really have to be a contortionist, you have to be limber, you just never know what’s going to happen — it keeps you on your toes. The tree that’s flexible will blow with the wind.

· Previous Editions of The Gatekeepers [~ENY~]
· All Hearth Coverage [~ENY~]

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403 East 12th St., New York, NY 10009