The Hat Tavern

By Dane Feldman

Photo by Dane Feldman.

The Hat Tavern is located in the basement of the Grand Summit Hotel on Springfield Avenue in Summit, New Jersey. The hotel as it stands today–originally, it was the Blackburn House built in 1868–has been around since 1929. The tavern, however, is a product of 2011, but it’s clear that this place is a mainstay.

The food
The restaurant is known for its burgers, which are made from a blend of brisket and short rib. The burgers on the menu seem to pay homage to the variety of ethnicities that call New Jersey home: the liberato burger is distinctly Italian (Italian sausage, pepperoni, Hoboken Farm’s fresh mozzarella, and herb roasted tomatoes), and the Greek lamb burger speaks for itself (served with greek pita, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, and tzatziki sauce), as does the Cuban burger (sliced ham, sliced pork loin, swiss cheese, spicy mustard, and pickle).

I went with the pastrami sandwich served with dark ale mustard on a pretzel roll. This was truly some of the best quality pastrami I’ve ever had and I’ve spent most of my life in New Jersey and New York City.

A New Jersey sense of humor creeps in, too, where menu items are concerned. The New Reduced Chris Christie Burger (topped with avocado, tomato, and baby greens on a whole wheat roll) is a nod toward Governor Christie’s apparent weight loss.

But if burgers and sandwiches, reduced or not, aren’t interesting enough, Hat Tavern also serves tapas (pizza, antipasto, Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, and clams, among others), sliders, tacos, and salads. The restaurant also serves daily specials.

The drinks
What would a tavern be without liquor? The Hat Tavern serves a bunch of beers on tap and by the bottle. Patrons can even fill growlers here, but if a beer and a burger just doesn’t suit, the tavern also offers a wide variety of wines by the bottle and by the glass as well as a solid selection of cocktails.

I had plenty of trouble deciding what to order considering the fact that the tavern even offers over 20 single malt scotches and just over 10 bourbons. In the end, I went for the Desperado: Wild Turkey American Honey with fresh lemon juice and house made syrup. I hadn’t tried Wild Turkey American Honey before this endeavor and now I’m thinking I will have to get my hands on it so I can recreate this refreshing drink.

Happy hour and daily specials are offered as well.

The service/ambience
The restaurant itself is fairly large, but even on a terribly rainy and cold night it was packed. The bar area is dim, but the rest of the tavern is well lit. The wait staff is quite friendly and attentive and, while the food came out quite quickly, I felt completely welcome to spend hours just hanging out. That’s what taverns are for, after all, right?

Surprisingly, I’ve lived just a few miles from The Hat Tavern for most of my life and hadn’t heard of it until just a few months ago. I had even been to events at the Grand Summit Hotel, but the tavern itself appears to be a secret so well kept by locals that some don’t know it exists. That and the fact that it’s located in the basement of a storied grand hotel makes for an intimate experience not unlike that of drinking in a speakeasy.