A Doctor Passes the Bar

Doctors often get hit up with "exciting investment opportunities." In this week's column, Greg Kelly recounts an investment opportunity his physician father thought of as "the one that got away."

“Buy land—they’re not making any more of it.”

—Mark Twain

Among my physician-dad’s missed investment opportunities—and he told me there were plenty—was the chance to buy a business in my hometown of Monmouth Beach on the Jersey Shore.

Dad told me that in the mid-1950s he had the chance to buy a bar and some surrounding property for less than $40,000. This neighborhood bar was located just one block away from the large home my parents had purchased for their growing family in 1954.

It might seem peculiar that a 38-year-old medical doctor with a wife and four kids (and another one on the way) would buy a bar, but dad did have a plan. His uncle, who had been a very successful New York City liquor salesman, would manage the bar business and it would later be passed down to my brother, Owen. In addition to the bar (then called Pete’s Inn), the deal included the liquor license and two smallish houses nearby.

The greater pity dad said was that he could have easily qualified for a loan. He was a young doctor with a solid growing income and, more importantly, he had excellent credit. Much to his regret, dad passed on the deal and the place was ultimately bought by a man named J. Emmett Boyle, who also owned a bar in Newark. The deal closed in April 1956—60 years ago last month—and Boyle’s Tavern was born. The bar, something of a legend in town, still thrives today.

Frequent host to horseplayers, town gossips, football fanatics, politicians, and PTA moms today, Boyle’s today is somewhat like the bar in the Cheers TV show, a place “where everyone knows your name”—not always a good thing.

Ironically enough, Mr. Boyle’s only child, Joseph, Jr., became a very good friend of mine. Back then it was legal to consume alcohol at age 18 and Joe’s dad served me my first “legal” drink. Mr. Boyle was renowned for his potent opinions, generous ways, and good business sense; his son has similar traits. Joe, who took charge when his father died in June 1979, has made many modern improvements over the years and today runs a successful business. The spot is rich with history.

Despite being a classic “shot-and-a-beer” joint in the early years, the crowd spanned the spectrum of society. It was mostly men—some in business suits and some in laborer’s clothes—forcefully discussing politics, sports, business, and life in general.

In the early 1900s, the building that today houses the popular tavern was a laundry for the nearby Monmouth Beach Clubhouse Hotel (once a resort for late-1800s Gilded Age elites). In 1913, the building became the town’s first gas station and auto repair garage owned by Peter Sheridan.

Mr. Sheridan had a remarkable record of public service to the community. His resume included stints as borough fire chief, fire company president, councilman, police commissioner, justice of the peace, and borough recorder.

During 1920s prohibition times, liquor (“home brew”) was sometimes served in a nearby barn. Beer was 10 cents per glass with every third one free (call it a “speakeasy”—the 18th Amendment prohibited alcohol in America from 1919 to 1933).

In the early 1930s, a billiard room (including ornate woodwork, windows, and a Tiffany chandelier) was moved from an old seashore mansion in town and added to the front of the building to become the barroom.

The first “official” drink was served in area in June 1934, about six months after the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Around that time members of the Monmouth Beach Association, a group of wealthy landholders in town, called the barroom and its music, a “public nuisance.” The complaints were addressed and the business continued to grow, although an outside sign indicating commerce at the spot has never been placed.

Among the famous to visit the neighborhood watering hole at Willow Avenue through the years were New York Yankee Hall-of-Famers, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Phil Rizzuto. Actor Franchot Tone (one of Joan Crawford’s nine husbands) was said to have been banned for drunkenness. Pop singer Tony Martin had family in the area. Roger King, the billionaire TV executive who launched Oprah Winfrey’s career, loved the large pool table. Tennis great Bjorn Borg held court one night. TV impresario Ed Sullivan had a few drinks one summer after attending a wedding in town. John Farrell, who managed the Boston Red Sox to the 2013 World Series title, was a bartender. And Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packer football coach whose name now adorns the Super Bowl trophy, also visited one night to play shuffleboard.