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    McGovern’s     gray logo           

Story and Photography by Chris Poh

At some point during the process of writing an article, I begin to consider a suitable yet catchy title that might impart some sense of what a place is all about. For this particular undertaking though the name says it all—McGovern’s. From Boston to Savannah, the Irish diaspora know the name well and hold this storied Newark, New Jersey tavern in very high regard.

coaster at Mc Govern's in Newark Nj as seen in American Public House Review

sign at Mc Govern's in Newark, NJ as seen in American Public House Review

St Patrick's Day 1957 in front of Washington Park in Newark, NJ as seen in American Public House Review

Since 1936, Frank J, McGovern had made it his mission in life to provide his customers and fellow countrymen with a good drink, a good meal, a good time, a good job, and in some instances, even a good wife. This was certainly the case for one William Scully. Upon his arrival from Ireland in 1958, he immediately went to work as a bartender at McGovern’s. And in the course of the next ten years he would marry the boss’s niece and eventually go on to become the next proprietor of the establishment.

I was first introduced to Mr. Scully and McGovern’s during the late 1970s. My dear friend Casey, who was very active in Irish culture, causes and consumption, insisted that I accompany him to the place. I was somewhat suspect of the possibility that one of the best Irish pubs in America, as he described it, might actually be located in Newark, New Jersey. Like so many other urban areas at that time, Newark was still severely suffering the effects of the racial discord and economic hardships that had plagued most American cities. But just as soon as the affable Bill Scully shook my hand and broke into an Irish ballad, at the request of some guy on the other side of the bar, while placing a pint of perfectly poured Guinness in front of me—I knew that Casey’s great love for this tavern was by no means misplaced. Here was an oasis from hard times where all were welcomed and where everyone got along. The tradition of giving your patrons a generous portion of hope, hospitality and happiness, started by Frank McGovern in the midst of the Depression, continued on for the duration of Bill Scully’s watch.

Taps at Mc Govern's Tavern in Newark, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
Great taps at Mc Govern's

Patrons at Mc Govern's Tavern in Newark, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
left to right, Chris Schmidt – Bill Scully – Ken Garten

More Patrons at McGovern's Tavern in Newark, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
The new generation of McGovern’s devotees –   PHD students from Rutgers – James Thomas, Steve Ivory and Adam Doerrfeld

As I became a bit of a fixture and more familiar with house policy and procedures, I realized that there was a definite pecking order to the place. There was in fact a sacred stretch of bar in the back corner where only the most seasoned veterans of McGovern’s held court. One of those daily regulars was Nora Kern, a jovial full-bodied woman who could supposedly out drink any man in the joint. It is rumored that many a man tried and many a man failed, including Mr. Scully himself. But Casey, who would drive Nora home on occasion, recently confided in me that this crafty old girl had an ace up here sleeve, or in this case, an empty bottle of Johnny Walker Black in her purse. It seems that fifty percent of the shots of whiskey that were purchased for her by those foolish sporting males found their way into Nora’s home liquor cabinet.

After a nearly twenty year absence, I once again found my way back to this Irish institution. Nora Kern has passed on, but there was a new crew of regulars sitting on that sacred stretch in the back corner. The tavern is now in the very capable hands of Sean and Pat McGovern, but Bill Scully still makes a weekly guest appearance behind the bar. I was lucky to have caught him this time around. And after a handshake and that first sip of Guinness, it was like I had never left. A sigh of contentment passed over my lips and a single word crossed over my mind—McGovern’s!

The sacred stretch at McGovern's Tavern in Newark, NJ as seen in American Public House Review

McGovern’s Tavern

58-60 New Street

Newark, NJ




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