Biz, Beats & Arts — A Spotlight on Rockaway’s Unsung Heroes: Tap That Proprietor John Agnello

 Biz, Beats & Arts — A Spotlight on Rockaway’s Unsung Heroes: Tap That Proprietor John Agnello

By Kami-Leigh Agard

Who are some of Rockaway’s unsung heroes? The businesses, bands, performers and artists that keep Rockaway alive all year long—even during the brutal winter months. In this bi-weekly feature, read about the entities and individuals who make the peninsula and Broad Channel one of the best places in NYC to live, dine, jam and enjoy the arts in all its forms, and exemplify why we should support local all year round.

In this week’s installation, meet local resident, John Agnello, the owner behind Rockaway’s revolutionary restaurant/pour-your-own drinkery, Tap That. Originally from Bridgeport, Connecticut, Agnello is a third-generation chef, who followed his father’s and his grandfather’s footsteps into the roller coaster food and drink service industry. His training ground was the U.S. Navy, where he served two years cooking at a naval base in San Diego. Following his job at Morton’s Steakhouse in Connecticut, Agnello moved to NYC in 2000, and has since garnered quite a reputation for his culinary prowess in high-end steakhouses. He then took a leap and opened his own upscale burger establishment, Burger Bistro; one location in Park Slope and the other in Bay Ridge, both unfortunately, shuttered by the pandemic. In the following Q&A, Agnello narrates how his mantra—“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle”— has kept him pushing despite all the challenges of not just running a business, but keeping afloat during the lean winter months.

RT:  What made you decide to open a restaurant here in Rockaway?

JA: We lived here while I owned the two Burger Bistro restaurants in Brooklyn, but unfortunately, they both closed during COVID. I owned these restaurants for a little more than 10 years, and when something like that happens, you don’t really see the other side. Not so much that your life is over, but these restaurants in which you invested your time, money, blood, sweat, tears; now all of a sudden, they’re gone. However, I knew at some point, I was going to do something else, and being Rockaway is my home, I really just wanted to be a part of a neighborhood restaurant. So, I opened Tap That just after Memorial Day in 2022. Food is my passion, and I was going to do it where I live.

RT: So how did you come up with the pour-your-own concept of Tap That?

JA: After the pandemic and all the pain that restaurants went through with the closures, I really wanted to do something a little bit new and innovative. I searched for a while trying to think of the next concept, and I came across this technology of the self-pour. The minute I saw it, I knew for a fact I was gonna build a restaurant around this technology. Some people may say it’s not as personal because they’re pouring their own, but the truth is it gives us as hosts more time to spend with guests, instead of just being behind a busy, bustling bar. Plus, the customer gets to taste and pour how much they want, even if it’s just an ounce they want to sample. You’re only charged by the ounce, so you’re not committed to pouring a full pint of anything. We like to say, “Stop waiting, start pouring.”

RT: How would you describe the cuisine at Tap That?

JA: Upscale bar food. For example, we have an appetizer called hog wings, which are mini pork shanks that are either barbecue or buffalo. Every bar in the world has chicken wings, so we try to be a bit more upscale and different. So, instead of regular chicken wings, we have hog wings.

RT: So how do you think the receivership has been with locals and people just coming off the beach?

JA: I think we’ve been very well received. There’s probably some who are a little apprehensive about pouring their own beer, ordering from a tablet, where there’s technology involved. However, I think if they’re open-minded and give it a shot, they’ll realize that we’re really just a local bar/restaurant providing a high level of service to people that couldn’t be more warm, welcoming and hospitable.

RT: Why is it crucial to support a local establishment, especially during the lean winter months, to keep Tap That and others open all year round?

JA: As a business owner, people are kind and complimentary, but the truth is, you feel as though your worth to people shows up in the sales. You hear, “We love John. We love Tap That.” However, some weeks, it’s like, where is everybody? Why aren’t they here? We struggle through the winter to keep our doors open in the summer. The truth is the expectation for the winter is to just break even, and still provide a good time for our neighbors with our service and the bands we book for their entertainment. We just want folks to enjoy what we have to offer, be it the 30 different self-pour taps, the food which we are absolutely passionate about, plus, provide them a little entertainment as well.

RT: On Tap That’s website, the quoted mantra is “Be kinder than what’s necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.” Why?

JA: Because it’s one thing to just be kind, but do we really go above and beyond sometimes? Just go that little extra mile because you really just don’t know who’s suffering, and maybe you can just brighten their day a little bit, at no expense to you. What does it take to just give a smile, a kind word or a compliment?

Tap That is located at 111-04 Rockaway Beach Blvd. To check out their menu and for more info, including opening hours, follow on Instagram: tapthatrbny or visit:

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