Bob Dillon dreams of creating a unique distillery experience to match the exciting food scene in Morristown. The Mendham resident is planning on opening a distillery in his retirement filled with craft cocktails and spirits called Dismal Harmony at 77 Morris Street, where the former Cy’s brakes sits.

Courtesy: Bob Dillon.

“We’re trying to create a food experience,” Dillon explains. “So what we’re looking for is a town that has a really good food culture and a good food community of both restaurants, bars and patrons. Morristown certainly fits that bill. We want to have a high-end experience and Morristown has the clientele to support that…” The larger building would be the tasting room and the cocktail bar, and the smaller building would be the distillery, along with storage and area for filling the bottles in the basement. Dillon said he has all the equipment for the distillery in a Morristown warehouse waiting to be installed.

The distillery project is currently in the logistics and planning phases, although Dillon first contacted Scotto about 77 Morris Street back in September 2020, and he signed a lease with them this past spring. The pandemic opened a window for Dillon that he didn’t expect to get a head start on this business. Dillon had his first virtual hearing for the project before the Morristown planning board in July, and in front of the zoning board earlier this month.

 

A rendering of the proposed distillery at 77 Morris Street

Dillon initially had to go to the planning board to ask for relief on the parking requirement and a loading zone, however he is more optimistic after his virtual meeting with the zoning board that he will get the variances needed. Before the project comes to life, the building would have to undergo its two-part construction process, including completing basic improvements to get the building up to par for a business to vacate and two, to transform the space into a distillery. They also have a proposed pergola along with outdoor seating.

 

A rendering of the proposed distillery at 77 Morris Street

Dillon expects a few more hearings in the next few months before the distillery can move forward. “If the Gods shine on us, we’ll be able to finish February [with the hearings] and get our permits and then we have to do construction. We have to get our construction permits and we have to get all the work done. So we’re looking at I think, optimistically and realistically, the summer.” Dismal Harmony already has its federal license and is waiting on its state license to be approved, according to Dillon.

Dillon said he put a pin drop on every distillery in New Jersey on Google Maps and found that Morristown didn’t have any nearby. “Not only is it just the perfect place to do the distillery the way I want to do it, but it’s very underserved, you have to go pretty far to find any kind of a distillery, let alone something like ours.”

Dillon said he wants to create an experience for people who visit the distillery with people being greeted by a host or hostess who will take people to their seats at the standing tables, bar, or booths near the front window. “This isn’t a liquor store where you walk in and buy a bottle and you leave, though you could do that. We want this to be an experience, we want people to be coming out on their date night and you know, to be not just what they’re drinking, but like Disney World, it’s not just about getting back on a ride, everything is well thought out, and we’re thinking of it that way.”

Dillon wants people to learn about cocktail making there so they can make the cocktails at home and they will also be able to purchase bottles of the spirits there. Robby Seibert, who ran the Gladstone Tavern bar program for 12 years and was the head mixologist, will be the mixologist for Dismal Harmony. Dillon said he’s extremely fortunate to be working with Robby. The distillery will be offering drinks unique to its testing room, along with some classic drinks. “One of our liqueurs is called Monk and it’s our interpretation of Chartreuse which is a centuries-old French herbal liqueur. In addition, our Gin is a floral Gin by design and features a special botanical called New Jersey Tea,” Dillon said.

 

Courtesy: Bob Dillon
Courtesy: Bob Dillon
Courtesy: Bob Dillon

He first found NJ Tea on a hike with his wife in Randolph because he said the flowers are so fragrant. The NJ Tea leaves were handpicked for the distillery during the growing season and now are vacuum packed and ready to go for Dismal Harmony. “When you taste our Gin you can pick up the tea flavor note…Robby made, and we tested a cocktail made from our Gin and our Monk that combines these spirits with freshly squeezed cucumber juice and is served with mint. It’s incredibly flavorful and refreshing,” Dillon said.

 

Courtesy: Bob Dillon

 

The name of the distillery also has local roots. Bob and his wife, Karen Novotny Dillon wanted to name the business after a local landmark. There’s a park in Mendham that sits at the intersection of Harmony Brook and Dismal Brook, and where they come together is called the Dismal Harmony Nature Preserve. They were thinking of all the parks and landmarks around the Morristown area, and they decided to name it after their favorite hike. “The words are just cool even though the words have no meaning. I think it’s pretty, it’s evocative and when you hear it, it’s intriguing. Dillon will also be seeking partnerships with local restaurants to have their food delivered to the restaurant, whether it be the Morristown Diner or Nom.

Dillon said distilling provides an opportunity for him to be creative in some ways that overlap with his job skills already. Dillon describes himself as an entrepreneur. He’s started multiple businesses in technology and went to New Jersey Institute of Technology for computer engineering, and graduated from Columbia with his MBA. Like tech, he said he sees distilling as an opportunity for growth.

According to Dillon, cocktails will be around $15, bottles for whiskey will range $40-$50, vodka bottles $40 and liquor bottles $25-$35. He hopes the distillery will be open by the summer.

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