Boyle’s Tavern: MB’s Neighborhood Bar
A thoughtful local observer called it the “Fenway Park of bars” — lots of history, lots of angles, lots of character. It’s Boyle’s Tavern of Monmouth Beach and it’s got quite a story.
The first “official” drink in the area — quickly to become the categorical neighborhood bar — was served in 1933, shortly after the repeal of the 18th Amendment on alcohol probation. That June the borough issued a license to Peter and Nora Sheridan to sell “beer” on Willow Avenue. The spot has been known for its “hospitality” ever since.
Peter Henry Sheridan, who came to Monmouth Beach in 1909 and was the son of a Holmdel farmer, bought the land and purchased and moved an old laundry house from the nearby Monmouth Beach Clubhouse Hotel on Beach Road. In 1913, the Sheridans converted that building (also used to repair and store elite touring cars) into the town’s first gas station and auto repair shop and later a moving service and storage facility.
The garage burned in April 1931 and was rebuilt. While under construction, the auto business moved to a barn in back of the Sheridan’s home on Willow Avenue. There, “Pete’s Inn” had already been informally established to serve chauffeurs and other workers. The auto business returned to the new garage and the old police kiosk from Ocean Avenue became the office.
During 1920s prohibition times, “home brew” was served from the barn. Beer was 10 cents per glass with every third one free. (Call it a speakeasy — alcohol in America was banned 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 barn to become the barroom for Pete’s Inn.
“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.”
It quickly became a popular gathering spot. By 1936 a liquor ordinance was passed changing the closing hours from 5 am to 2 am. The kiosk was moved to the west side of the now expanding structure and made into a men’s room. Due to a lack of heat at the inn, the bar business was moved into the family’s nearby home (Pete’s living room) for awhile.
Pete Sheridan (1876-1951) had a remarkable record of public service to Monmouth Beach. His resume included stints as borough fire company chief and president, councilman, police commissioner, justice of the peace, borough recorder, and MB Club superintendent.
In October 1945, Ed and Mary Holden (Pete’s daughter) assumed control of the business and tore down the barn and its additions. Upon converting the garage into a bar, the borough formally approved the liquor license transfer and Pete’s Inn was officially established. Mary, who died in 1998, had one of the town’s first TV sets installed at the bar. In August 1950, the Holden family sold the business to Harry and Jean Smith.
J. Emmett Boyle and his wife Doris bought the business in April 1956 and the family still controls it today. Mr. Boyle also owned a bar in Newark where he grew up. Renowned for his potent opinions and quiet generosity, Mr. Boyle was a borough fire chief (1968), served for many years as the borough’s welfare director, and was a founding member of the MB First Aid Squad. Mrs. Boyle, a nurse who died in 1999, was a 40-year member of the MB Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary.
Despite being a classic “shot-and-a-beer” joint in those years, the crowd has 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. Some also recall the bar’s “talking bird” in the early 1960s. Savvy at commerce, Mr. Boyle also acquired much of the land around the bar.
In August 1967, a story about Monmouth Beach appeared in the New York Times. The piece was written by James F. Clarity, a prominent Times journalist and Boyle friend, who bought his River Avenue home from Mr. Boyle. The deal was signed on the pool table. The large feature article with several photos was entitled, Monmouth Beach, NJ, Once Playground of the Rich, Fears Becoming Playground au Go Go of the Young. The story, somewhat controversial for its time, also referred to Boyle’s Tavern and the owner’s practice of not serving “phonies.”
Joseph E. Boyle, Jr. took charge of the bar when his father died in June 1979. Joe has made many modern improvements over the years (but still “No Bud”), and today runs a successful business. Frequent host to horseplayers, lawyers, town gossips, football fanatics, politicians, and PTA moms, today Boyle’s Tavern continues to be the embodiment of “Monmouth Beach hospitality.”
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Closing Time: Coach Sent “Packing”
A Monmouth Beach quipster, once remarking about the characters who’ve passed through our town, said “they all stop by here on their way to Hollywood.” Perhaps.
Among the famous to visit the neighborhood watering hole on Willow Avenue through the years were actor Franchot Tone (one of Joan Crawford’s four husbands), who was said to have been “bounced.” Pop singer Tony Martin, who 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 stopped by one night and was recalled as a stingy tipper. And one pro football legend, whose visit itself is stuff of legend.
When Vince Lombardi entered Boyle’s Tavern one late night in 1967, he was Head Coach of the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. He had just attended a dinner party at The Colony Restaurant in Rumson (today’s Fromagerie) owned by Nick Egidio, a popular shore restaurateur.
Frank Crahay, a borough resident and Lombardi friend, had dined with Lombardi and invited him back to Boyle’s for a drink and some shuffleboard, whereupon Crahay (one of the state’s keenest legal minds) dispatched the Hall-of-Fame coach in three quick games. The highly-competitive Lombardi, seeking to beat “that hot-shot young lawyer,” wanted another game as closing time approached. To which, an adamant owner and bartender, Emmett Boyle, replied “Not here, Coach. I’m closing.” That was it. So long Vince, I’m shutting up.
As the locals say, “only in Boyle’s.” Lombardi would go on to win a second Super Bowl the next year. He died in 1970 and is buried in Middletown, NJ. Crahay, who would serve for many years as a respected NJ Superior Court presiding judge, died in 2013.
2 Willow Avenue
Monmouth Beach, NJ 07750