This column is in collaboration with Jaclyn Isaac and focuses on the interior design and inspiration behind some of our favorite places in Jersey City. Jaclyn is an interior decorator and design blogger in Jersey City. Her personal blog can be found here.
Michael Gondevas is a busy man – he runs two restaurants, has three kids, and has hosted many of you in his Jersey City neighborhood spots: The Hamilton Inn and Hamilton Pork. But he carved out time in his busy schedule to sit with me over a ‘Merican Mule at his newest labor of love – Hamilton Pork – to share some design details, and where he got that neon pig sign in the window.
Jaclyn Isaac: So, how did we get here? What’s the back story?
Michael Gondevas: I started at the Madison in Hoboken for a lot of years, but I went off on my own and bought the Hamilton Ale house and my wife and I turned it into Hamilton Inn. After a year or two this space (Hamilton Pork) became available. I didn’t know what I needed it for but I knew I eventually wanted to open another restaurant here.
JI: Very forward thinking of you! What happened to the pizza idea I’ve seen floating around in old press?
MG: I had to get a restaurant variance, so I just went with it; but my obsession with BBQ started 5 years ago. I travelled to Austin for fun, and then with the BBQ festival in Hamilton Park, I realized a need for it in Jersey City.
JI: What did you start with in both spaces?
MG: The Inn was kind of a mess, beat up. Still a charming neighborhood place but needed work. The bar is original and over 100 years old, I believe from Maryland. The bones are there and the building is beautiful. When you’re given a building like that it just makes it easier.
Same thing here [Hamilton Pork], a lot of this is the building, it’s not really us. A friend of mine gave me the idea of the container. Rob Feinstein – an interior designer. Someone actually asked me if I could build them the container bar in their backyard! I have my own ideas, I’m the worst with designers. I run with what I want to do but we have creative friends we get advice from.
JI: And the name was easy…
MG: So easy. Besides the old Italian staples that were around for years this was the first nicer American restaurant in this area. I didn’t want to change the name because the name meant something to me too growing up.
JI: When you were starting to gut the Ale House, did you start with a vision? A cozy, every day place, but it does feel a little bit more upscale.
MG: Our customers made it that way, it took on a life of its own. In a sense I give people what they want but they make it their own. I just wanted a neighborhood place where people were comfortable in both spots.
JI: And the decor?
MG: My wife designed the Inn herself, but I had so many hands in the Hamilton Pork pot: Tables were built by Tribeca Grain, he also built the bar, shelves, etc. Lights are by School House Electric. Walls and beams are original. This was all sheet rock [points to huge brick wall to the right], like a foot of sheetrock. I had to see the brick, though, and it was a mess, we repaired some of it and white washed it. Kristen Scalia, who owns Kanibal Home, gave us the flag. And then we’re opening up outside – a nice big garden in the summer.
JI: Where are the neon signs from?
MG: My brother and I went on a trip to Austin for some BBQ “research”; they have amazing neon everywhere. We found these guys an hour and a half north of Austin in Lockhart. They were all handmade. In Jersey City there’s very little neon left. But down there it’s really well done and preserved almost like an artform.
JI: What are your thoughts on Jersey City and its rapid transformation?
MG: It’s definitely become a destination already. It’s a great neighborhood, we’re connected to the community. We know everyone who comes in here. Honestly, I don’t get out much, but my favorite spaces right now are definitely Batello’s and South House.
JI: What are your 3 favorite things about the space, and maybe some things you would do differently?
MG: My favorite thing is that we are still here. There really are no negatives, we love it here and we are really blessed.
Visit both of Michael’s delicious destinations off 10th and Jersey Avenue right off Hamilton Park, open 7 days a week!
[gmap height=”250px”]247 10th St, Jersey City, NJ 07302[/gmap]
Hamilton Pork, 247 10th St, Jersey City, NJ 07302