is a two time winner of
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|Where are those historical preservation commissions when we need them? I just
heard they’re tearing down the venerable Village Tavern, the launching pad for the serving of hundreds of
thousands of beers. Adding insult to injury it’s being replaced with a health spa. Are you kidding? The
sainted patrons of the old VT must be rattling their limbs in horror since the only exercise any regular got
was walking to the john or handing an empty pint glass to the bartender for a refill.
The Village Tavern was a true American classic of the kind you don’t see much of anymore. It was, to be
exact, a gin mill.
Now for the younger readers, a “gin mill” did not make gin, or any other potable for that matter. It was a
classic bar where the beer was always lager and the glasses barely clean. A real gin mill was a lovable
dive, fit for man and beast as long as both had a big thirst and no pretensions.
The Village Inn was a gin mill’s gin mill serving your choice of beer and booze or, for the more sophisticated
palate, booze and beer. It was a gin mill with deep, historic roots in the community of Martinsville, NJ
serving thirsty pilgrims since 1922 (excluding time off for police raids and other legal entanglements).
In tribute to its ancestry as a Prohibition era speakeasy, the Village Inn was well hidden. In fact, as Yogi
Berra might say, even when you were there you still weren’t sure where you were.
More than a few years ago, on a dark and stormy night (really), I was semi-lost in the wilds of the
northwestern part of the Garden State. To get my bearings, and a six pack, for my ride back to
recognizable territory, a stopped at a traveler's oasis - a liquor store. As I wandered around the store I
heard some laughter and the unmistakable TV voice of Marv Albert describing a Bill Bradley jump shot.
Diligently following the sound, I weaved through rows of stacked cases of Budweiser, Coors, and Miller until
I saw a small sign over an entryway to what seemed some long forgotten annex – “Village Tavern”.
The L-shaped bar was appropriately well worn, the kind that makes you feel instantly comfortable in a way
that perhaps explains why teenagers feel better when they buy brand new jeans with pre-made rips and
holes. As I took a seat the bartender said he’d be right with me as he disappeared into a back room. I
used that time to take a quick look at my fellow patrons. It was a group worthy of the Star Wars movie bar
scene. One character seated at the far end (fortunately) was quietly puffing on a cigar so long it had its own
zip code. A semi-inebriated gentleman seated next to him was discretely reaching over the bar and
refilling his beer glass . It was self-service at its best. At the table behind them a neatly dressed man was
intently cleaning some type of shiny metal object that almost looked like, well…… maybe he was an off duty
Near the window, on an empty table was a large empty coffee can. It seemed a nice rustic decorating
touch until I noticed the water dripping into it from the leaky roof. It was form and function working perfectly
together. Most of the tables at that side of the bar were also protected by their own attractive coffee can. All
except one where the can had been moved off to the side. There, two individuals were in a heated
argument. It was so intense neither noticed the water from above perfectly dropping into their beer. That
will teach them never to fool with a bar's decorating motif.
The bartender finally returned carrying two burgers and dutifully placed them in front of a middle aged
couple seated a few feet from me. It seems that the burgers here are personally cooked to order by the
bartender/chef on an outdoor grill in the backyard tucked under the overlap of the building’s roof. Later, the
bartender told me he allows a few ultra fussy regulars to cook their own burgers. He wasn’t kidding as a
few minutes later I saw someone called Mickey stroll in through the backdoor, plate and cooked burger in
hand. He seemed happy and only a bit wet from the storm. It must have been a small overhang.
The Village Tavern had 8 taps, an almost unheard of selection at that time. The taps were Budweiser,
Miller High Life, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Coors Banquet, Schlitz, Rhinegold, Schaeffer, and Ballantine. True
American classics each and every one. Taken together they stretched across the flavor spectrum from
“A” to “A”.
I remember thinking that, without question, I had such an educated palate that I could taste the difference
between each and every one of those beers. Fortunately that ability was never tested since there’s
probably more of a difference between catsup and ketchup. Still, I had a favorite. It was Miller High Life,
the "champagne of beers." My preference for Miller was based as much on logic as on taste. It’s simple.
I like beer. Those who live the high life like champagne. Put them together and it’s a High Life welcome to
the high life.
The Village Tavern was such a seriously serious beer bar that not only had Miller High Life in bottles, but
also on tap. I would have one from the tap then the next in a bottle. Then do it again. While I loved the
clean, crisp, oh so fresh taste of High Life on tap the bottle was for me. The High Life bottle is an essential
part of the beer’s mystique. It's clear glass. No boring brown for we sophisticated drinkers. This is a bottle
made to be seen. Indeed, many a bar’s last call found me proudly waving it on high as a parting salute to
the beer chugging hoi-polloi.
As the evening wore on and the beer began to flow I discovered that the people at the Village Tavern were
a friendly group. One guy, Tom, even invited me and a couple of others to his place for dinner. He took the
time to explain that his “place” was an abandoned van, but we were not to worry since “it’s a Mercedes”.
We all politely declined. As for me, I bought him a beer to say thanks. By the way, that one and same,
down on his luck Tom, subsequently won a small fortune in the NJ State Lottery. His gift to the bar was his
former residence, fully restored. It went on to great fame as the Village Tavern delivery vehicle and Tom
went on to investment success. I like to believe that he bought that winning ticket with the money he saved
when I paid for his beer that fateful night.
After a few more visits I discovered that The Village Tavern, like pubs reaching back to the time of George
Washington, was always alive with discussions of politics, sports, local gossip, and the woes of daily life.
And, like the pubs of Washington’s day, the balm to soothe it all was a tankard or two of ale. George would
have liked the VT. The beer and whiskey flowed in amounts that would fill several tankards……. oil
I’m not sure why the owners sold the place but at least they threw one heck of a goodbye party. It was
almost outrageous enough to get them closed if they were staying open. An era was ending but it was not
going quietly into that good night.
As for the regulars, they drifted around to many other bars. A goodly number, trying to stay local, visited
The Chimney Rock Bar & Grill a couple of miles down the road. Unfortunately the word of the closing party
and their years of legendary consumption had preceded them. Chimney Rock management had posted a
hand written sign over the bar that read “Two drink limit for anyone from the Village Tavern!”
Needless to say, Chimney Rock was not, nor never will be, a gin mill.
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