This the season for joy, laughter, and good cheer, and a new United Kingdom-inspired pub in Asbury Park is seeking to make the holidays even more delicious this year with pints, authentic British fare, and a bodacious Bloody Mary that doubles as a meal. Black Swan Public House is tucked inside the historic Byrum Building, a gilded former bank that dates back to 1886. The term “Black Swan,” which is associated with something unpredictable, is par for the course for the chef/owner, who opened his newest venture during one of the most tumultuous periods in recent history.

“I could not have seen opening a restaurant during a pandemic, but I did it anyway,” said owner and executive chef James Avery, who debuted the restaurant in August. “I’ve always wanted to do a pub.” He also owns Bonney Read American Seafood Restaurant nearby. Avery gained notoriety as the sous chef for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.

The cool, cozy ambiance of the pub immediately draws attention to the giant vault and safe door beyond the far end of the bar, where currency was once held. With the safe open, it now acts as an intimate “speakeasy” setting with bistro tables and chairs that patrons can access on a first-come, first-served basis.

“I wanted a true European experience and chose the English route with posh sophistication,” said Avery.” The European gastro pub serves hearty comfort classics like fish and chips, bangers and mash, Scotch eggs, and shepherd’s pie, plus a colorful vegan version called gardener’s pie. A fan favorite is the hot wings, lathered in Sriracha sauce with a side of blue cheese dressing, and as the owner pointed out, these are not your run-of-the-mill wings. The presentation, per Avery, is the difference between culinary art and cooking. His signature artistry, including a vibrant heaping of Caesar salad (enough to feed two hungry people), is on full display here.

When it comes to holiday cheer, Black Swan’s mixologist Nikole Grande brings it in festive style. On a whim, Grande accepted an invitation from a friend and relocated from Plymouth, Massachusetts, to New Jersey in 2011. She worked for six years at Bonney Read before assuming the mixologist position at Black Swan.

Nicole Spread

“I like the fast-paced environment and the challenge of multi-tasking,” she said. With speed and precision, Grande has mastered the service bar. Her Hemingway Daquiri, made with Flor de Caña white rum, Maraschino liqueur, lime, and grapefruit juice, topped o with a dehydrated lime wheel and Maraschino cherry, is smooth indeed. The sweet and sour ingredients are balanced, with one not superseding the other.

Grande hails from a family of matriarchal restaurant employees. Her mother Linda and grandmother Ruth both worked in the industry for years. “It’s in my DNA,” she said, adding she hopes to open her own establishment one day.

To hone her skills, Grande works with a mixologist from New York who frequents Black Swan, and she follows a bevy of mixologists online. The coaching has taught her that, “Simpler is better. Cocktails made with fresh ingredients make the difference.”

She also stays on top of libation trends. “Younger guests are opting for low alcohol beverage by volume (ABV), and choosing to add CBD drops to their drinks to be relaxed but not drunk,” she noted. Mocktails also are a growing trend, along with traditional cocktails like the old-fashioned and the Manhattan.

Grande is enjoying the Garden State, particularly Asbury Park, where she now lives. “It embodies the flavor of city life, while also close to the ocean,” she said, adding, “I love the art, the music scene, and the restaurants.” While she will be spending this holiday season away from her Massachusetts family, Grande was quick to point out that chef Avery and the staff at the Black Swan and Bonney Read are her home-away-from-home family.

“My holidays don’t feel lonely because I’ve made a family here,” said the affable bartender.

During this time of the year, there’s a tendency to have too much liquid cheer, so Grande has concocted the Ultimate Bloody Mary to accommodate customers’ desire to head in the right direction. It comes bearing gifts like fresh shellfish and bacon!

The Black Swan
601 Mattison Avenue / 732.361.7159 / theblackswanap.com