New craft beer bar opens in Winchester

Jason Connolly, owner of The 50/50 Taphouse, pours a beer. The bar offers 50 craft beers on tap. Photo by Henry Culvyhouse

WINCHESTER — When Jason Connolly was a teenager growing up 15 miles outside of Manhattan, he always dreamed of opening a restaurant or bar.

So he started working in a New Jersey restaurant, then decided to pursue a degree in culinary arts at his local community college. At 19, he went to Orlando, Florida, for an internship at Disney World. Upon returning, he received a number of job offers, including one from Wyndham Hotels in management. He dropped out of college to pursue that offer.

It was in Orlando that Connolly, who has “always been a beer drinking since I was allowed to drink,” fell in love with craft beer, which was in its infancy at the time.

“There was a craft brewer at the time called Red Hook,” Connolly said. “They used to be a small craft brewer from Washington state … I remember drinking Red Hook and thinking, ‘Wow, this is amazing,'” Connolly said. “That got me into the world of craft beer.”

After 15 years in the hospitality industry, Connolly decided to strike out on his own when he opened The 50/50 Taphouse on Dec. 19 at 29 West Cork St. Offering 50 varieties of craft beer on tap, ranging from hoppy IPAs to dark porters and 50 variations of hamburgers, Connolly said his bar strikes a balance between offering good beer and good food without a pretentious atmosphere.

“There is a level of craft beer that does go to the extreme of being pretentious or being snobby, but it’s not for me and it’s not in my staff and it’s not what we’re trying to do here,” Connolly said.

The bar offers an array of beers from all over the country, from Oregon to Virginia. Connolly said he expects to go through “a couple hundred” varieties of beer during his first year.

“We try to spread out the range of beers in terms of taste and alcohol content,” Connolly said. “Sometimes brewers go a little overboard and make beers with high content, so we made sure we wanted to offer drinkable beers, beers that won’t get you drunk after three or four glasses.”

The burgers, Connolly said, are made out of hand-pressed patties, ground and blended from chuck, brisket and short rib, served on a freshly made bun. Connolly said he does not want to stray too much from the restaurant’s focus on burgers.

“When I go to a restaurant and there are lots of options on the menu, like seafood, steak, pasta, salads … they do it all, but all of it is done OK,” Connolly said. “I decided going into this I wanted to hone in on one concept and do it well.”

Connolly said he also wanted to give patrons a fun atmosphere to enjoy their food and beverage. The bar features a giant size chess set, giant Jenga, shuffleboards, a pool table and a giant Connect Four set.

“A lot of times, these beers can wear you out if you’re just sitting there sipping on them all night,” Connolly said. “I wanted to give people something they can do with a beer in their hand.”

Presently, the bar employees 10 servers, cooks and bartenders. Connolly said as business expands, he would be looking to bring more people on staff.

“What I’m looking for isn’t necessarily experience in the restaurant industry, but a wide knowledge of craft beers,” Connolly said. “I can teach somebody how to wait tables or pour a beer, but I can’t teach them 200 varieties of beer in a night.”

In the future, Connolly said he hopes he can incorporate live music, a mural of the state of Virginia and bacon happy hours into his restaurant. However, his main goal is to establish the bar as Mecca for craft beer lovers.

“Murphy’s Beverage Company and Union Jack’s are both pioneers in bringing craft beer to the area,” Connolly said. “I want this restaurant to be a part of that, so people from Front Royal or Martinsburg will think of Winchester as a must visit place for craft beer.”

The 50/50 Taphouse is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com