Cooney Schwartz's Tavern (circa 1944 A.D.)

by Charles McGrath


Conrad "Cooney" Schwartz owned a tavern at 552 Ferry Street, a little east of Vincent Street. For brevity it was affectionately called "Cooney's ".

But it was more of a gin mill than a tavern.

Cooney was a short balding man on the portly side. Looking back it seemed very strange that a Hungarian gin mill was so successful. It always seemed that most establishments of that type were usually run by the Irish. This gin mill had some very strange guests considering it was Down Neck.

This is my recollection from almost 60 years ago. It may need some enhancement but I think it's correct. When you entered Cooney's from the front door the bar was on the left. A shuffleboard was on the right. A mounted deer head was also on the wall. I think Cooney also had a rod/gun club for sportsmen. The back room area is a little fuzzy. But most bars were for men only and the rear room was usually for ladies and families.

I can still visualize what I saw when I entered his gin mill. There were two small window exhaust fans that did nothing but make noise. The bar was always packed with everyone talking at once. The custom of many men at that time was to go to the gin mill right from work. In many cases most of the man's paycheck and time were spent at the gin mill.

The smoke from pipes, cigarettes and cigars was unbelievable. It was actually a white cloud that just hung over the bar. The typical brass spittoons were resting at their stations. Usually located underneath the bar rail that was everyone's foot rest. When I think back I never remember seeing anyone chewing tobacco. But spitting was a macho thing and thus the need for the spittoons.

Cooney provided an usual takeout service by today's standards. If you brought a metal pail with a handle on it, he would fill it up with beer to be carried home for consumption. This we did many times when we visited Granny's house. As you know alcohol can be the lubricant of speech. Looking back I think a couple of times us kids were even sent to be the couriers. I guess that was before the A. B. C.

If I went with my father I would always beg him to take me to the backyard of the establishment. We always had to be escorted into that area. On the exterior side of the back door was a junk yard dog on a chain. His job was to make the uninvited sorry for going into that area. This area was reserved for Cooney's pets. Once the dog, which was a pit bull without papers, was secured we entered the strange environment. The backyard was filled with cages of many animals. They definitely weren't indigenous to Down Neck. These strange guests that were so well protected were game birds. Pheasants , Grouse, English Game Birds and Gosh only knows what else. He had his own zoo.

Cooney ran for East Ward Councilman when Newark changed from Commissioner to Mayor/Council form of government. While Cooney lost in his bid for the council seat, Newark won. Because of the change in government Newark was named in 1953 the most progressive city in the United States.

Cooney sold his gin mill in the 1970's.

Down Neck I guess always had it share of very strange guests.


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