Round Bar - Wagon Wheel

by Frank Wiener


During the 1950’s and 60’s, my parents, Harry and Helen Wiener, owned the Round Bar, which was located on the northeast corner of Frelinghuysen Avenue and Miller Street, south of the downtown area and not far from the large New Jersey DMV facility, which, to my recollection, did not exist then. Miller Street School, however, did stand right across the street. I suppose that in many places today, a public school would not be located directly across the street from a bar, but this was the case at that time.

At some point, and I am not certain when, my father changed the name of the bar to the Wagon Wheel, which featured live country and western music, a genre that my father loved but that my mother didn’t care for at all. She referred to it as “your father’s cowboy music” and not without some resentment, if not contempt. The Wagon Wheel may have been the only establishment that featured live country music in the Newark area during that era, but I cannot say this for certain. As a child, I remember finding the extensive mailing list that my father used for advertising his special jamborees, and it included customers from all over New Jersey, which was mostly rural during that time, even though most people today don’t believe me when I say this. Many of his customers came from small “country” towns throughout New Jersey with names that were completely unknown to me. Being the geography nut that I have always been, I used to spend hours researching these unfamiliar places on one of the state highway maps that were freely distributed by gas stations everywhere.

My father’s customers not only came from all over the state to see and hear the Wagon Wheel’s live country and western music but from all over the country too. Located near what may have been Newark’s only interchange of the recently built New Jersey Turnpike, the Wagon Wheel also attracted truckers from all over the country who mostly learned about my father’s place by word of mouth. All four walls of the bar were covered with huge, stained, wooden plaques that listed the neatly hand painted names and hometowns of every visiting trucker, hailing from nearly every state in the country.

While I believe that most of the musicians were local to the area, Roy Clark did appear at the Wagon Wheel before he became an international television sensation. Even though country music was not his genre, Frankie Valli also performed at the Wagon Wheel before he and his group, the Four Seasons, achieved worldwide fame. Coincidentally, after my father retired from bar ownership, he tended bar at the lounge of the Four Seasons Bowling Alley, whose name the famous group decided to adopt for itself, located on Route 22 in nearby Union, where I spent most of my childhood. Although Connie Francis lived just over the tracks from the Wagon Wheel in the Ironbound Section of Newark before her family moved to Belleville, I can’t say that she performed at my father’s place. I wish that I could. Who’s sorry now? I am!

When the neighborhood changed and became less safe for my father’s customers, the Wagon Wheel was forced to close. Many years later when I attended the Rutgers Graduate School of Management, which was not very far away, I passed the site of the Wagon Wheel at the northeast corner of Frelinghuysen and Miller. All that I found in its place was the burned out shell of a building. Only the memories endure.


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