This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.[Jenny Adams]
It's called The Tap & Grill, surely the most anonymously named restaurant ever covered by this column. And that may explain why it is so little known outside Rockaway Beach, despite being more than three-quarters of a century old, and, by its own boast, Rockaway's oldest clam bar. (Are there many other contenders?)
The Tap & Grill stands alone, surrounded by dozens of faceless duplexes of recent vintage. It is the last vestige of a former, more joyous Rockaway Beach, one filled with seaside attractions (the beach is only two blocks away): arcades, roller rinks, bumper cars, batting ranges, bars and eateries. The sprawling Boggiano's (pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs) was next door. The legendary Playland amusement park was across the street. All gone now.
I've seen old pictures of the Tap & Grill. It used to be a damn sight more charming than it is today. But, given what now surrounds it, it still wins the loving cup for character. Inside, the place is anchored by a large, square bar. Come on warm weekends and you'll find it packed, the crowd joyfully drinking pilsner and singing along with the jukebox. But this is a restaurant, with a full menu, which is posted on a dry-erase board above the grill on the western wall.
Seafood dominates. Little necks, of course. Also oysters, clam chowder, fish and chips, fish tacos, shrimp tacos. However, not everything on the menu is always available—the little necks had not been delivered the day I went. And some things that aren't listed ARE available. "Lobster bisque," said a wiry woman happily as she came out of the kitchen. "Lobster bisque is back!" (The bisque, I was told, was one of the Grill's specialties, rich and distinctive.) This lady spent a considerable amount of time at the bar talking up the Sept. 23 menu with the regulars. New York Strip, ribeye, linguini with shrimp. She swelled with pride. I had the Manhattan clam chowder, which was nice, but had precious little clam in it, and the fish and chips, which were fresh and light.
The Tap & Grill is patronized mainly by locals, ones who remember the old days. It also enjoys the custom of firemen and police. Regulars scraped away at their lotto tickets, talked about local crime and the kind of cars that were coming into one mechanic's garage. My first bartender was sweet, meek and attentive; she made sure to say goodbye to everyone before she left. The guy who took over for her moonlights there a couple nights a week; he raved convincingly about every other item on the menu. The owner spends his time in what looks like a motorized, leather La-Z-Boy, and likes to welcome strangers.
The place has enough of a foothold in the 21st century to have a website. But it remembers its roots, and where it is. The site lists not only the menu, but the best fishing days for 2011 and the "Best Times for Fishing." E.g.—"When the breeze is from a westerly quarter rather than from the north or east."
—Brooks of Sheffield