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Melvin James Neal, Jr., of Camden
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Memories of Gloucester City: Topic The Pub Crawl



By Jack "Bomber" Bennett

Note: The author is a former resident of Gloucester City and a graduate of Gloucester Catholic High School. Today, Jack resides in Florida. The article was first posted on CNB in map to enlarge

PUB CRAWL – the act of one or more people drinking in a number of pubs in a single night, normally walking between them.  Wikipedia

As a kid growing up in Gloucester City in the 50's and 60's, it was always there beckoning to you. You never quite understood what it was, but you could feel it every time you walked down most any street in town. There was always this vibe in the air—a tingling sensation. You couldn't quite put you finger on it, but you knew it was there.

Then, one day it suddenly hit you like a bottle of stale beer and you saw it—Gloucester had a tavern on nearly every corner. Some street corners had more than one. Of course, you said to yourself, why hadn't I seen it before. It was so obvious. And with that epiphany came the realization that some day you were going to visit each and every one of them. It was your calling--your duty. It was in your DNA, like a salmon going upstream or a Sherpa climbing Mt. Everest. There was no running from your destiny. But, you wondered, how could you visit all of them?  Then somebody said these words to you, "PUB CRAWL."

There aren't many rites of passage that have stood the test of time quite like surviving your first pub crawl. And admit it, as a Gloucesterite you've either done one yourself or you probably know someone who has. But, in this age of Political Correctness one shouldn't be talking about consuming mass quantities of alcohol, but the heck with that. It was a genuine rite of passage in this town-- a lot like killing your first bear out in the frontier. Znewindex_2 The only caveats were no cars or bikes and you "had to be of age or be able to prove it." It had to be attempted on foot and then perhaps ending on ones knees. This is where the crawl part came in.

Photo from web site

My crawls started in the late 60's as part of our bachelor party nights. What better way to send off an old buddy to the land of nuptial bliss than by visiting as many beer halls as possible. Many a Gloucester groom has gone to the altar following such a night on the town. Many grooms probably were a tad late and a bit woozy when they finally took their vows because of a good crawl.

So what exactly was the best way to do a Gloucester pub crawl? There are several theories concerning how to do a really good one. Some would opt for an Irish theme and let's face it, finding an Irish bar in town was like finding sand on the beach. Many places had names that began with an "O" or "Mc" or at least had a shamrock on the sign.

Sometimes you would only go to places that served a certain beer on tap. It could be a Schmidts night one time, then an Ortliebs or Pabst another night. But, whatever you decided on, it didn't matter. There were plenty of choices regardless of the theme for the evening.

Next, there was the choice of the best route. Should you go north to south and east to west or vice versa? That decision could be a tricky one because the farther you ended up from your home the worse off you could be. This was especially true for a crawl in the dead of winter. And heaven help you if you had to wake up a loved-one at 2 AM to beg for a ride home.

The traditional starting point for most crawls would be at the far north end of the city at Joey O'Donnells at Warren and Broadway. The atmosphere there was Irish and friendly, and in those days no women were allowed at the bar. This meant that the conversations were usually very "earthy." You never had to watch your language-- unless of course you were a Republican. Religious affiliation was a non-issue.

After finding somebody to pay the tab at Joey O's, you would head south "up" Burlington Street. B Street was the obvious choice because it gave you the best bang for your buck and your shoe leather. In the years between 1955 and '65 there were never less than 15 bars and package goods stores along this route of less than ½ mile. That's a pretty impressive number for any city, but most impressive when you consider that Gloucester never boasted a population of more than 16,000 residents.

Traveling down a block on B Street took you to Hoovers and then to Essex Street. Essex had two joints- The Essex House and Solly's. It wasn't unusual to see two bars at the same intersection. I have been told that at one point in time, Gloucester had corners that held three or four taverns. Today's intersections usually hold four gas stations or banks--boring.

Next, you headed south on B Street through the M's- Morris, Mercer, Middlesex and then to Maxies on Hudson St. At this point in the festivities, you've been in at least 8 places and you haven't scratched the surface yet.

From Maxies it was on to Pappy's on Cumberland and then to Moonies up the side alley. Some of you are might be wondering why I failed to mention the VFW Hall. Well, you couldn't always count on someone signing you in if you weren't fortunate enough to have a Veteran in your group. But, your protest is duly noted.   

Next it was on to Market Street and the home of the Melody Lounge and Keeblers Cafe, the home of great subs and sandwiches. Keeblers was your best chance to get something into your system that would get you though the rest of your journey. It was like an oasis in the desert and the savior of many a pub crawler.

Leaving Keeblers meant a longish walk to your next stop. You usually headed west towards the river (brrrr) and then turned south to Jersey Avenue and the Mansion House where Betsy Ross (yes, that Betsy Ross) had her wedding reception. And no, I wasn't a guest, wise guy!

From the Mansion House you traveled east on Jersey Ave to Caps-another place for good food and one that was also not female-friendly at the bar. The dining room was for the ladies. They still have the tile trough at the base of the bar that was allegedly used for spitting and other 'functions" by the male patrons back in the good old days (remember--you don't buy beer, you only rent it). From Caps you went over to the Sportsmans Bar and then across the avenue to the 500 Club.

Now came decision time and this is where they separated the men from the boys.  Do you call it a night or try to get to the Red Mill down on Broadway which was a considerable distance? Only the hale and hearty made the decision to keep on going that far. You were much better off heading back to Caps and then calling a cab or a friend to get you home in one piece. The Red Mill would have to wait for another day and another crawl. Still, by now you've covered a lot of ground, drank a lot of beer, and bonded with friends. It was time to just count your blessings.

It's been over 30 years since I moved away from Gloucester. I try to get back every year or so and each time I do, I notice the numbers of haunts in town where you can wet your whistle are dwindling. Times change and so do people's sensibilities. And while I'm not endorsing public inebriation (you need to know your own limitations, and frankly, I might not get past Middlesex Street these days), if you're willing to walk a little, you can still visit a fair number of places for a libation before the cows crawl home. You'll meet a lot of interesting folks and you'll see the city. You can do a lot worse things with your time.

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