South Orange Has a New Beer Garden, Is this Town Next?

Pump House Biergarten. Credit: Landmark Hospitality.

In 2015, Sheena Collum had just become mayor of South Orange and a major problem was already staring her in the face. What to do with the crumbling, asbestos-ridden Village Hall? Demolition was out of the question. The landmark building — listed on the National Register in 1976 — needed a top-to-bottom renovation, but the seven-figure price tag was way beyond the budget for the town of 18,000-plus residents. 

Village Hall. Credit: Darren Tobia.

“Money had not been put in that building for well over 20 years,” Collum told the Four Oranges. “I encouraged my colleagues to put out a request for proposal and see if someone had other ideas rather than quite an extensive renovation and a large cost to our taxpayers.”

The township heard a few convincing proposals, one even included a boutique hotel. But then came the idea by Landmark Hospitality that won over a skeptical board of trustees — a beer garden. Not only did it pair perfectly with the architecture of the building — Ehrick Rossiter & Frank A. Wright fashioned it after a German tavern — but the conversion kept the integrity of the building intact.

“That’s something we were sensitive to,” Collum said. “We wanted to preserve all aspects of the historic building.”

The Pump House Biergarten opened last October and South Orange’s downtown quickly became the envy of neighboring towns — if it wasn’t already. The venue gets its name from the actual horse-drawn water pump that Frank Cretella, founding principal at Landmark Hospitality, encountered while initially touring the Village Hall. The building housed the fire department when it opened in 1894.

The top floor of the Village Hall is an event space. Credit: Landmark Hospitality.

In addition, to the tavern’s pièce de résistance — a custom-built, forty-tap tower — executive chef Philip Campanella serves up Bavarian fare, including a crispy pork schnitzel to complete the bierhaus fantasy. “It’s busy from the minute we open the doors,” Frank Cretella, founding principal of Landmark Hospitality. “I’m happy.”

The formula has proven so successful that Cretella is already scouting out his next venture. In fact, Cretella has gotten wind of an old abandoned Tudor-style cottage on Northfield Avenue in West Orange that used to house the Essex House, and Rod’s Roadhouse in older generations. “Somebody brought that up to me,” Cretella said. “I gotta check it out.”

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