The long hallway entrance opens up to a room complete with a bar, dance floor, and a small stage in the far corner. There is a band on stage playing live traditional Irish music. Just inside the entrance stands Mr. Frank McGovern, founder and owner of McGovern’s Tavern.
He is not checking ID’s; he is there to make sure that only women are using the hall entrance.
The men have a separate entrance for the bar at the front of the building. If they want to dance, listen to the live music, or speak with a lovely lady, they must first get by Mr. McGovern through two swinging doors just next to the hallway entrance. He is there to ensure any gentlemen going to the back room are dressed appropriately in a suit and tie and have not imbibed on too much drink. If you weren’t appropriately dressed, you were in luck: there was usually a nice gentleman that came through selling ties so you could gain entrance.
It was 1936 at McGovern’s Tavern in Newark, New Jersey. At the time there weren’t many Irish establishments in the area, and it became a quickly a central fixture in the community. Originally from Swanlinbar, County Cavan, Ireland, Frank McGovern envisioned a place where members of the Irish community could enjoy live Irish music and dance when he opened the doors. He couldn’t have known he was creating a place that would become an institution on both sides of the Atlantic.
In McGovern’s latest evolution, they’ve launched a mobile app! Click here on your mobile device or simply search for “McGovern’s Tavern” in the iTunes or Google Play stores to download the free app for updates, events, and deals. Have the Brick City Bucks app? Be sure to join McGovern’s loyalty club.
For many years, if you emigrated from Ireland to New Jersey, McGovern’s Tavern would be one of your first stops. Here you could enjoy your first beer in the United States, and more times than not, Frank McGovern would be able to help find you employment. It was the type of place, and he was the type of man, that if you arrived in a military uniform, you didn’t have to worry about paying for your drinks. They were on him.
The beers of the day were mostly local choices. Pabst Blue Ribbon (Newark, NJ), Rheingold (Orange, NJ), Schaefer (Brooklyn, NY) and Ballantine (Newark, NJ) and they were often ordered with a shot of whiskey on the side. For the ladies, it was usually a highball or a sloe gin fizz.
Fast forward to 1958, and a young man named Mr. Bill Scully emigrates to Newark from Whitegate, County Cork, Ireland. Naturally, his first stop was McGovern’s Tavern. He had a job the next day. In a suit gifted to him by Frank McGovern, he first worked as a pallbearer. He soon found himself working behind the bar part-time. In time he would marry Ms. Maura McGovern, the niece of Frank McGovern, and officially become part of the family.
When Frank McGovern decided to retire in 1968, McGovern’s Tavern changed ownership for the first time in 32 years. He could rest assured that the place was in great hands with new owner Bill Scully, who by then was a longtime barman and the man to whom he had “lost” countless ties from lending them out over the years. In their time working together, Mr. Scully had seen firsthand the importance and uniqueness of McGovern’s, and was determined to carry on those great traditions.
Visiting the place he founded years later, Mr. McGovern’s first question was, “Where are the doors?” He was relieved to learn they were in storage in the basement. As always, places, customs and times change. The swinging doors between the front bar and the backroom went away, as did the separate entrance for the ladies.
Welcoming new and old customers alike, balancing the history and spirit of the bar with the changing of time, Bill Scully kept the tradition of McGovern’s alive for 33 years. Upon his retirement in 2001, ownership would change hands for only the second time in 65 years.
It would once again transition to hands with an appreciation for, and eagerness to continue, the institution that it had become. The new owners would be brothers Sean and Pat McGovern (grand-nephews of Frank McGovern) and Mike Nagle (brother-in-law of Sean McGovern). They made some small changes: adding one television that is mostly used for Yankee games, enlarging the stage to accommodate larger bands, expanding the food menu, and refurbishing the front bar.
These days, the Irish community in the area is much smaller than it was. McGovern’s regulars are now a wonderfully diverse group: area residents, college students, police officers, firemen, construction workers, office workers and attorneys. All are welcome and celebrated.
Whether it’s your first visit or you’re a longtime regular, when you enter, you’ll be greeted with a hearty hello and a friendly smile from behind the bar. You may also get the feeling of becoming fast friends with your neighbors on the stools next to you. After 80 years, some things just haven’t changed, and the legacy of Mr. Frank McGovern continues to serve and enrich the community he loved.
McGovern’s Tavern is located at 58 New Street.