Tap 42 boasts one of the most stylish interiors of any restaurant in the area. Walls adorned with blond and brown wood offer textural interplay. A rust-colored old Texaco sign warms the space with nostalgia. Fifteen-thousand pennies serve as a backsplash against a wall of taps that snake down the bar, 42 in all, and serve a rotating selection of craft beers. Scores of industrial light fixtures celebrate the simplicity of the bulb. The completed design illuminates near-obsessive attention to detail.
"I've been a bear for all the designers I've hired," said Blaise McMackin, who co-owns Tap 42 with his brother Sean. A resident of Fort Lauderdale for more than 25 years, Blaise discovered inspiration for the bar in his travels in Austin, Texas, and Asheville, North Carolina, where raw industrial spaces are reimagined as restaurants and lofts. "There's nothing like those spaces here," he told me before Tap 42 opened. He says no restaurant-design professionals in South Florida were literate in creating a minimalist design using reclaimed materials, so he had to do it himself.
If only the rest of the details at Tap 42 were so thoughtful. I've visited nine times over the past two months, and at many points, I could survey the room to see people with empty beers or plates, trying to get someone's attention.
Tap 42 fuels our enthusiasm for craft brew by making it the centerpiece of this gastropub, which serves beer-friendly fare such as tacos, sausages, burgers, hearty salads, and robust vegetarian sides. And while the community has met the concept with eagerness, patrons are often greeted by absent and neglectful service and food that's uneven. It's hard to maintain devotion to a place that doesn't reciprocate.
Despite the crowds, bartenders still find time to chat with one another. On one visit, a bartender leaned against the bar, her back to me, twirling her hair, while three of us tried to get her attention for place settings after food had arrived. A room that magnifies noise amplifies the challenge of getting someone's attention.
The food is also inconsistent. A basket of $9.50 Bourbon wings arrives soggy. "Try these," a stranger dares me one night at the bar. "They're not right." He's right. A side of $6 squash and Brussels sprouts was underseasoned and still crunchy. "Where's the caramelization of these vegetables? Were they even cooked?" asked my father. A $12.50 meat and cheese plate offered a weird combination of artisan sopressata, salami, and mortadella paired with blue cheese and bland cheese curds. Condiments and pickled vegetables served as garnishes and accompaniments.
"What are these pickled vegetables?" my father asked the server who delivered the board. A flat pink triangle looked like a beet but tasted like a turnip. "Uh, I don't know," he said. "Make it whatever you want it to be." It didn't occur to him to ask chef Chris Palmer.
"It's infuriating," said my friend Kat about her three visits to Tap 42. A resident of Philadelphia, she and her husband have a house in Lauderdale. She agrees with McMackin's observation that there's nothing like Tap 42 in the area: a gastropub on the south end of Andrews with plenty of parking, an interesting bar menu, and an ambitious beer selection. But the service needs work. "I watched a manager argue with a customer on my third visit," she said. Apparently a couple put their name in for a table. After a half-hour, they checked on their wait time only to learn their name was no longer on the list. Instead of accommodating the customers, an employee told guests they hadn't given their name to the correct person. The couple left, incensed. My friend questioned whether she'll go back.
The strongest service I've experienced was as part of a table of ten just before the holidays. The food was another story. The $7 sweet potato fries arrived ossified. Warm $9.50 pretzel sticks wrapped in sopressata were limp, oozing with cream cheese.
The menu at Tap 42 is definitively meatcentric, as one would expect at a beer bar. It's ironic, since Blaise is vegetarian. "I can't look at the meat in the kitchen," he said after a walk-through before the restaurant opened. This becomes a problem, as one owner can't taste and assess half the menu.
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For the most part, it shows — with the exception of terrific nine-ounce burgers. A perfect char, a flavorful blend of meat, and artisanal toppings make for seven varieties. My favorite is the breakfast-lunch-dinner, a decadent combination of burger blend, fried egg, country ham, green tomatoes, and jalapeño cheese sauce for $13. At least the burgers are consistently good, perhaps a contender for the best in town. If they can do one menu item this well, why not all of them?
And then there's the beer. The first night I visited Tap 42, I sat next to a couple of bartenders from other establishments who were enthusiastic about supporting the new place. A bartender from the Briny Pub sitting next to me mentioned that his favorite craft brew at Yard House was more expensive here. Most craft brews hit the $6-to-$11 range. If you're willing to pay the price, there's a plethora of choices, as well as knowledgeable bartenders, if you can get their attention.
"Excuse me!" said a woman I'd met just moments before on yet another fly-by. She was flagging down a manager after a frustrating wait for menus and refills. "I think I speak on behalf of the crew here," she said, pointing to us. "We all want you to succeed. And we know how hard it is in the opening weeks, but we wanted to offer some advice on how service can be more attentive." She and her date were both restaurant workers.
Two months after the incident, service issues remain. Will they derail the success of Tap 42? It's up to the McMackins. Good service requires management to provide consistency and support. When it's clearly the case, Tap 42 will be worth another try. For now, it's a frustrating place to drink.