In the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's, Newark
had a substantial Jewish population that after World War II edged
up to about 58,000, and at one time represented 12 percent of the
city's population and 1.1% of American Jewry.
In those decades, a vital landmark that had become the heart and
soul of Newark's bustling and upwardly-mobile Jewish community was
the Weequahic Diner.
It occupied a triangular strip of land at 306-308 Elizabeth Avenue
bounded by Hawthorne Avenue on the south and E. Peddie Street on
the north. The Denburg Bakery was directly behind the diner.
The Diner had been erected at that site in 1938 by the Leo Bauman.
Earlier in the 1930s, Leo Bauman had operated a modest eating establishment
on Broadway in North Newark called "The Colonial Grill."
Leo Bauman had realized that as Clinton Hill was now heavily populated
as a Jewish residential area, and was rapidly spilling over into
the more prosperous Weequahic section that an eating establishment
straddling those two neighborhoods and appealing to first-generation
Jews who lived there would fill a need.
He commissioned the Kullman Dining Car Company of Harrison, one
of the leading diner builders1,
to build and install what was quickly destined to become a Newark
landmark, and a gathering place where two generations of Jewish
Newarkers subsequently met, ate, and socialized.
A Diner Untypical of the 1930s
The Weequahic Diner, when it opened for business in 1938, was
untypical of neighborhood diners of the 1930s. It was much larger2,
more nicely decorated in its interior, and served a vast variety
of high-quality food -- both in its American menu, and with a wide
selection of Jewish food favorites, as might be found in a traditional
Its flaky-crusted cream pies, baked goods and tasty little hot
rolls were without equal, and a popular discussion argument of the
era was whether the Weequahic Diner pies were better than those
of the classier and pricier Tavern Restaurant at 444 Elizabeth Avenue,
just two blocks up on the corner of Meeker and Elizabeth which opened
nine years earlier.
Morris Joins Leo in 1941
Leo Bauman's brother, Morris, had fled from Nazi Germany to England
in 1940, and, after living through the Blitz, Leo arranged for Morris
and his wife to join him in Newark in late 1941. Morris immediately
went to work in the Diner and Leo later made Morris a full partner
in his dining enterprises.
My Diner Recollections
I fondly recall my visits to the Weequahic Diner in the post-World
War II years, usually after Saturday night dates and later as a
young newlywed. Whenever we went to a show, concert, or any social
event, we'd often wind up the night with a stop at the Weequahic
Diner for "coffee and." (I had a passion for the diner's
During the wait to get in--and there was always a wait--we would
meet friends, neighbors, former schoolmates, perhaps our doctor
or dentist--people we knew and with whom we could chat. It seemed
to me at that time that the warm friendly atmosphere around the
diner made it as much of an attraction as its good food3.
Several Newark old-timers from whom I invited Weequahic Diner
recollections for this "Newark Memory" summarized their
diner recollections words similar to these; "It was the place
you went to be seen."
Diner Location Spells Success
At the time Leo Bauman opened the Weequahic Diner in 1938, Newark's
large Jewish population concentration had largely shifted out of
the old Third Ward and into the Clinton Hill/Weequahic neighborhoods,
and with its location at the foot of Hawthorne Avenue, the diner
more or less straddled both neighborhoods and quickly became a landmark.
Its location at 306-308 Elizabeth Avenue gave it yet another advantage.
While a virtual Jewish-peopled gathering place during the dinnertime
and into the early morning hours, for its breakfast and luncheon
business, it was also the best and most conveniently located quality
food eatery in the area, and catered to the nearby industrial plants
between Elizabeth and Frelinghuysen Avenues, and to the offices
and storefront Elizabeth Avenue business establishments that took
advantage of its expansive American menu for both eating in and
take-out food orders.
A Sunday Breakfast Recollection
One former diner habitué, with whom I spoke, recalled that
in her growing-up years through World War II, her father would take
her to the Weequahic Diner every Sunday morning for breakfast --
a custom that lasted through many postwar years up to the week of
Her father's favorite breakfast order was matzo brie (matzo soaked
in pieces, mixed with eggs, and fried). She said "I was crazy
about their bread, hot rolls, and Danish."
The waitresses, she recalled, were courteous and friendly. They
were mostly blondes and wore their hair in an upsweep. In the 1940s
when salaries were modest, she added, she'd heard that the waitresses
made over $200 a week in tips.
Some Other Recollections
When I recalled the Weequahic Diner to an octogenarian friend
recently, he recalled 1940s and 1950s experiences at the diner as
similar to my own.
"When I got through with a date," he told me, "I'd
go to the diner to meet my friends. There was always someone there
that I knew, even at 12 - 1 in the morning. The Weequahic Diner
was my hangout."
Bill Newman, who had lived on Hawthorne Avenue near the diner
in those years and is now retired to Florida, recalled the diner
as an end-of-the-evening date spot. "You usually had a long
wait," he recalled, "at mealtimes and even late at night
there were usually lines waiting to get in."
Another friend, who frequented the diner in the 1940s and 1950s
also recalled the Weequahic Diner with great warmth. He said he
ate there frequently and was especially fond of their cream pies,
especially the chocolate cream and the nesselrode pie. He also recalled
that they had great creamy rice pudding4.
He sentimentalized "When you sat down, you got a basket of
little hot rolls that were as delicious as any Danish pastry, and
a bowl of mixed salad. I think they called it "diner salad"
(which would later be known as Claremont salad)5.
If you emptied your bowl, they would refill it...and they would
also bring extra rolls...and the diner food was great."
A late 1940s luncheon frequenter at the Weequahic Diner, who was
the son of a then Mob-connected Frelinghuysen Avenue business-owner,
offers this Diner recollection:
"The Weequahic Diner was the meeting place of the entire city
of Newark. The Italians from the First Ward on the other side of
the city came to eat at the Weequahic Diner ... It was the meeting
place ... I used to see Longy Zwillman and his people there at lunch,
sitting at a special table reserved for them."
Some of the diner's Jewish specialties were longtime favorites
and included kishka, chopped chicken liver, stuffed cabbage, and
fried kreplach. Some were listed as "with Chicken Fat."
They also served a variety of smoked fishes, and their generously-stacked
cream cheese and lox platter (with bagels) had an aerated cream
cheese as light as whipped cream.
Menu categories ranged from "Sizzling Hot from the Grill"6
... Triple-Decker Club Sandwiches...Weequahic Famous Open Sandwiches...Salads
and Fish Delicacies...Assorted Cold Buffet...Dairy Dishes...Griddle
Specialties...and "Weequahic Famous Desserts" that includes
the fabulous Weequahic Diner cheesecake7,
a dozen varieties of pies, fruit tarts, and cookies.
Diner Population Shifts
While the Weequahic Diner was thriving and bustling around the
clock during the 1940s and 1950s, the Jewish population in the Clinton
Hill/Weequahic area was moving out of Newark to Hillside, Union,
and the West Essex suburbs. And as Newark's Jewish population diminished,
so did business at the Weequahic Diner.
The 1967 riots in Newark marked the end of virtually all Jewish
life in Newark with the departure of nearly all of Newark's Jewish
population, synagogues and institutions by the end of that decade.
The riots also signaled the death knell for the Weequahic Diner,
which the Baumans sold to others, and was eventually closed down.
How Baumans Prepared for End
The Bauman brothers, earlier on, sensitive to the shrinking of
Newark's Jewish population, and, with an eye to the future, had
shifted their food operations to the Claremont Diner on Bloomfield
Avenue in Verona.
Its new location attracted many of its former patrons, especially
those who had relocated to the West Essex area, and also an entire
new population who quickly went for their food preparation, service,
and warm atmosphere. The Claremont became what the Weequahic Diner
had once been.
A Look Back at What Used to Be
It is more than a generation since the landmark Weequahic Diner
has been gone from its Newark location, but if you meet any former
Newarker from the neighborhood where the diner reigned supreme,
they are quick to recall and to reminisce about the old diner's
warm and friendly atmosphere, and Leo Bauman running around and
shouting "Hurry Up! -- People are waiting" -- or Leo trading
good natured insults with his devoted clientele, who considered
his off-the-wall utterances and shouts as much a part of the diner's
ambiance as the palatable menu.