Immediately after opening in February on the outskirts of Walden in Orange County, Big Dogs Brewery began luring crowds with its curated rusticity, tasty craft brews, and live music shows that pack the place every weekend.
Co-owners (and life partners) Missy Raap and T.J. Santiago aim to create a home away from home for their customers. Raap’s behind the bar, while Santiago either joins her or takes the stage for an impromptu jam with other local musicians. Ten craft beers ($7 per pint, or $12 for a flight of four, 4-ounce pours) are on tap all the time—between five and eight of them are brewed in-house, with names like Sit ‘n Stay Stout, Wet Nose Wheat, and Lap it Up Lager. The brews—and the bar’s logo—honor the couple’s Great Dane/Mastiff mixes, Althea and Zeus, who make guest appearances nearly every Sunday.
Music and beer brought the couple together in 2018. Raap was a bartender at the Middletown Elks lodge (about 20 minutes from Walden) when she hired Santiago, a retired New York State trooper, to play music during her shifts. Santiago has been a musician for the past 20 years, playing at venues across Orange County—including at Big Dogs’ predecessor, The Brewery at Orange County Hops. Soon, Raap began bartending there, too. “I fell in love with the rustic vibe,” Raap says.
They became friends with owners Mike and Alva Antonelli, who’d owned the place for five years and often talked about retiring. “We’d joke that if they retired, we wanted first dibs on the place,” Santiago says. In November 2022, the Antonellis told Tim they were planning to sell the business at the end of the year. Raap didn’t need much convincing: “T.J. texted me with the news, and I said, ‘I’m in.’”
Aside from leveling the floor, the building was in good shape; Santiago and Raap mainly focused on ensuring safety and adding their personal touches. “We’re a drinking establishment,” Santiago says. “We didn’t want anyone tripping over an unlevel floor.” They also expanded the bar, originally dog-legged, to be a straight, 12-foot length of varnished wood. Skinny, high-top tables allow a smooth flow of traffic throughout the venue and focus on the raised stage in the corner across from the front door.
Another corner is filled with a pellet stove, couches, and a coffee bar for those who want a non-alcoholic brew ($3 for coffee, tea, or cocoa). While they listen to music, customers can peruse the photos of Raap’s and Santiago’s family and friends that cover the wood-plank walls. “We wanted our customers to feel like they’re walking into our home,” says Raap. “We wanted it to be warm and inviting, whether there are five people here or 50 people.”
They had inadvertently practiced their hosting skills over the previous year, inviting musician friends to play at outdoor shows at their home in Bloomingburg, Sullivan County. “Hosting the house concerts showed us that, wow, we could do this,” Raap says. Come warmer weather, they hope to replicate that intimate atmosphere in Big Dogs’ expansive backyard, with firepits, string lights, and—of course—local music.
All shows at Big Dogs are free, but listeners are encouraged to pay what they can, with a simple wooden collection box near the stage (suggested donation is $10 per person). The idea benefits both the musicians, who test new songs as well as play old favorites, and the customers, who have a comfortable, laid-back, often interactive musical experience. “We’ve only been here a couple of months, and we’ve become known as the musicians’ clubhouse, where players come to jam with our scheduled musicians,” Santiago says with pride.
When the weather warms up, the music will move to the backyard, which still sports a “Boyle’s BBQ” mural left over from the venue’s stint in the Peacock network’s series “Poker Face.” (An episode filmed there right before Big Dogs opened.) Friendly, leashed pets are invited outside, where water stations and pet cleanup stations will be set up. And no glass will be allowed outdoors, for a paw-safe experience.
A rotation of local food trucks helps keep customers satiated, serving American, Latino, and other cuisines (check their Facebook page for who’s on the docket for the week). Besides the beer and coffee, Big Dogs serves Finger Lakes wines ($8 per six-ounce pour) and cocktails with local spirits.
Often, the brewery reaches its 50-person capacity and customers need to be turned away. But the venue’s size is part of its charm, the couple attests: “We want to learn about you,” say Santiago and Raap. “We want that intimate connection—a mom-and-pop place where every customer’s a VIP.”
Big Dogs Brewery is open Thursday and Friday, 3-10pm; Saturday, 12-10pm; and Sunday, 12-6pm. Live music is scheduled from 6:30-9:30pm Fridays and Saturdays. Events like trivia and cornhole tournaments are planned for Thursdays; a monthly book club began on April 2 that drew an over-capacity crowd.
Big Dogs Brewery
771 Route 52, Walden