While the microbrewery trend has been rising like so much yeast around Fairfield County, Newtown has remained high and dry.
But that’s about to change, as a pair of new taprooms are in the process of opening.
Reverie Brewing Co. is under construction at the former LRM Inc. shop at 57B Church Hill Road with an eye to opening in December, according to co-owner Ryan Broderick. Asylum Brewing Co. has received the town’s OK to become the first for-profit commercial tenant at Fairfield Hills, the onetime site of a state hospital.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal has been a vocal proponent of bringing a commercial element to Fairfield Hills, a 185-acre campus that currently is a mélange of government offices, sports fields, the Newtown Youth Academy sports complex and the under-construction community center and senior center.
A number of hospital buildings remain that are either in the process of being razed or repurposed, including the 9,000-square-foot Stratford Hall, once the hospital’s library and executive dinning hall. Mark Tambascio, co-owner of Asylum, said that the building was his first and only choice for realizing his longstanding dreams of opening a brewery.
“I’ve been in love with it for five years,” Tambascio, who also operates My Place, one of the town’s mainstay eateries, said. “I got into brewing by homebrewing and once the town approved breweries and distilleries, we started looking seriously at it.”
The town’s Planning & Zoning Commission approved zoning regulations allowing such establishments as permitted land uses in September 2017. Tambascio said he began negotiating for Stratford Hall a month later.
While he’s still working to secure financing from a bank, Tambascio said that Newtown has been “extremely helpful” in repurposing the building, which opened in 1932. The town will bear the cost of remediating and replacing Stratford’s original roof as well as providing utility connectivity, exterior window trim work and additional remediation as required, through existing bond money. All told, the town will spend some $180,000 on the work. Asylum has a 30-year lease at the building.
“There was no Plan B,” affirmed Tambascio’s partner and architect David Kingsley, whose DJ Kingsley Design/Build is designing the new space. He also helped build My Place’s beer bar. “We weren’t going to do it in a garage or a warehouse.”
Asylum will utilize both of the building’s two floors, taking advantage of the 26-foot ceiling on the upper floor and working to preserve as much of the structure’s historical ambience as possible.
“The fact that Mark is such a known commodity in town helped a lot,” Kingsley said. My Place has been in business for about 30 years. The Tambascio family has also operated Tambascio’s Italian Grill at 1 Dodgingtown Road since 2007. The family, headed by matriarch Louise Tambascio, regularly sponsors youth sports teams and frequently donates food and money to a variety of town projects, Kingsley added.
Another partner, Mark Lennon, who oversees the My Place bar, said that while the project was initially called M&D Brewery, the decision was made to instead call it Asylum as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the site’s past.
“We have to be careful. We’re not going to have beers called Lobotomy Lager or Electroshock Stout,” he said. “We’re also talking about donating a percentage of our proceeds to mental health causes.”
Asylum’s output will be developed by brewer John Watson, who Tambascio met while getting into homebrewing. He said Asylum will probably have 15 beers on tap at a time, with a capacity of about 600 barrels. Opening will take place some time next year, he said.
Despite the family’s long experience with restaurants, Tambascio said Asylum will not feature a kitchen. Instead, it will have a large outdoor pizza oven and offer crudité platters. Asylum has also received approval to have a single food truck on the premises during operating hours.
Meanwhile, Reverie’s Broderick said he’d also taken a look at Stratford Hall, but decided it was too large for his needs. Instead, he’s in the process of converting a 5,600-square-foot building as a taproom with a 23-foot bar, and will use another 1,700-square-foot building nearby for storage.
Reverie is operating under a five-year lease with landlord LRM, which is helping with some of the construction and is removing old materials and debris from the property.
A longtime employee at JP Morgan in Greenwich, Broderick said he also became interested in craft beer through homebrewing. The Redding resident said he and his wife had “fallen in love with Newtown. We come here to eat all the time, and we felt the town had the right community vibe for what we want to do.”
Longtime brewer Frank Lockwood has relocated from Brooklyn to serve as Reverie’s head brewer. Broderick noted that his father Mark, who operated a restaurant in Waterbury, also has an ownership stake in the brewery, which will start by producing around 600 barrels a year.
“(Economic and Community Development Deputy Director) Christal Preszler has been amazing. She paved the way for us with Zoning,” Broderick enthused. “And Dan (Rosenthal) wants this type of stuff in town, something for younger people to enjoy.”
The community spirit has also been important, he continued. While there were concerns over parking (Reverie has access to about 50 parking spots for 100 seats) he said that Newtown Hardware has agreed to let patrons park in its lot at nearby 61 Church Hill Road.
“Getting permissions from the town and the federal government was fairly easy,” he said. “It’s the state that’s been slowing things up. Everybody else does things electronically, but with the state, you still have to go the paper route.”
Broderick noted that other local brewers, including the recently opened Broken Symmetry in Bethel and Nod Hill in Ridgefield, have been helpful when it came to questions about how to build a proper beer-making operation. “You’d think they’d be really competitive,” he said, “but it’s more like one big community.”
Reverie will also feature food trucks.
“I don’t want to run a kitchen, too much hassle and extra cost,” Broderick said.