The owners of Croxley’s Ale House this week are marking 20 years in business with special beer and wing deals. They’ve built an empire of five bars from Manhattan to Smithtown and one more soon to open.
Twenty-three years ago, Jeff Piciullo and Chris Werle, childhood friends from Franklin Square, opened a bar in their hometown. They called it Piccadilly.
“A lot of people don’t remember it,” said Werle. But can recall what the duo did next.
The then 23-year-olds had bigger ideas. They wanted to serve good beer — the craft beer movement was just taking hold in the New York area—and food. They sold Piccadilly after just two years and bought a small corner bar on the other side of their town on New Hyde Park Road. They called its Croxley’s and it initially offered 12 taps of mostly British beers, later expanded to 18. Few other bars in the region offered that kind of variety. And it sold no Bud, no Miller, no Coors.
“We always liked tap beer better than bottled beer,” Werle noted, adding, “we wanted to evolve it into an eating establishment as well.”
Buoyed by their success in Franklin Square the pair bought a second location in 1996, in Rockville Center, which they dubbed Croxley’s American Ale House to capture beer drinkers’ newfound fascination for American craft beer. Of the 56 taps in the new bar, 36 were American, among them Brooklyn Lager Brooklyn Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada and Pete’s Wicked Ale. “We were the first to serve Brooklyn Brown on tap on the Island.”
Having conquered British and American beers, the pair decided they needed a place that sold Belgian brews. A trip to Belgian with chef Ed David and then Waterzooi in Garden City was born in 1998. “It became a hard core Belgian bistro,” said Werle, noting the Belgian-style menu and 22 tap beers—all Belgian. And next door, what is now Novitia, a wine bar with 100 by-the-glass offerings, soon followed.
New York City’s siren song was loud and in 2003 they opened in the East Village at 20 Ave. B with 34 taps. Recently, this location doubled in size.
And then in 2008, Werle, Piciullo and company brought their Croxley’s empire east, opening in Farmingdale with 66 taps and then late last year in Smithtown with 80 taps, many of them German. They are awaiting permits to open an outdoor beer garden at the Smithtown location.
And they are awaiting permits to open a Brooklyn outpost in Williamsburg. Two years in the making is closer to realty. “It’s about 85 percent done. We’re hoping to open sometime this spring.” Noting that fixtures and taps are in, Werle says completion is “at the mercy of the [New York City] building department.”
Running their empire means 60-hour workweeks for Croxley’s owners. They usually can be found in one of the establishments on any given day. “We eat in all the stores. We drink in all the stores,” Werle noted, adding that he continued to order beers for each and every one of the bars.
Over the past two decades, the Croxley have dispensed hundreds of thousands of barrels of beer, Werle added. And they’ve also sold countless chicken wings. “It was one of the first dishes we had,” he said, “We had a really good recipe and it took off.” Wing specials are offered at each of the Croxley restaurants.
Werle and Piciullo have ridden two waves of craft beer and now are enjoying a third. “This third wave is definitely here to stay. This one is so strong,” Werle said, recalling that in their early days they spent a great deal of time educating their customers one by one about the different craft beer styles. “Now, they come into the place with a full education and it’s great,” Piciullo said.
Added Werle, “It’s a fun time.”
To mark the 20th anniversary, Croxley’s owners are holding a beer bash at all of their locations on March 30, starting at 4 p.m. They’ll be offering free pints of Croxley Anniversary Ale until the keg is kicked. After that, pints of the Anniversary Ale and Croxley Blond Ale will go for just $4. There also are free buffets and the first 100 guests at any of the bars will receive a t-shirt.
Here’s where you’ll find Croxley’s:
Farmingdale, 90 Main St., (516) 293-7700
Franklin Square, 129 New Hyde Park Rd., (516) 326-9542
Rockville Centre, 7-9 South Park Ave., (516) 764-0470
Smithtown, 155 W. Main St., (631) 656-8787
Manhattan, 28 Ave. B, (212) 253-6140