Thursday, May 7, 2015

Max's Cafe - Gloucester City, N.J.

Max's Cafe - Gloucester City, N.J. - Five Stars

 Max's Cafe - Max's Cafe - 32 N. Burlington Street, Gloucester, City, N.J.
(856) 456-9776
Image result for max's cafe gloucester city nj
Hear about Max’s? You think of Max’s Kansas City. Hear about Chubby’s? You think of the now defunct but locally legendary Chubby’s of Camden.

Max’s Café in Gloucester City, N.J. is a classic revival of a neighborhood saloon that is bound for legendary status, while a new Chubby’s is rising like a Phoenix from the ashes and will be up and running soon.

You could never just stumble across Max’s Café unless you took a wrong turn off the Walt Whitman bridge and got lost wandering around the back, one way streets of old Gloucester City, where old, well-kept row houses are a stark contrast to Camden, where the neighborhoods were pretty much abandoned by their residents for the suburbs.

In the shadow of the Walt Whitman bridge, this beautifully restored and exquisitely operated century’s old café has a great historical tradition was restored and renovated complete with tile floors, tin ceiling, fans, wine cellar, board room fireplace and a German artisan wood carved bar with a mirror that reflects a hundred years of change.

All of this is the handiwork of Tom Monahan, whose uncle John was the owner of the legendary Jack’s Twin Bar, a half-mile away, where there’s an historical plaque that reflects that fact that Bill Haley and the Comets were the house band there in the early nineteen fifties before their hit song, “Rock Around the Clock” became the first Rock & Roll song to make #1 on the Pop Charts in 1955.

Monahan, who is pictured by the fireplace with one of his customers – David Crosby, has kept up the city’s Rock & Roll tradition by bringing in Fran Smith, of Hooter’s fame, every Friday night.
As their 1912-2012 100th Anniversary poster explains, the building was originally constructed in 1890 and originally served as a shoe store owned by German immigrant Joseph Fred Leisinger, and you can see pictures of him on the wall of him standing out front.

On a trip home to German in 1911 Leisinger got a good deal on a huge artisan carved wood and mirror bar that he purchased and had shipped home, and on June 1, 1912 (five weeks after the Titanic sank) opened Leisinger’s Saloon, a popular establishment until Leisinger died in 1937. His widow sold the place to another German immigrant, Max Waterstradt, who renamed it Max’s, as it has been known for the past 68 years.

By 1977 Max’s had a reputation for the best, simply prepared fresh seafood – flounder, shrimp, clams and mussels, the house specialty, and there were lines around the block to get in.

Image result for max's cafe gloucester city nj

Twenty years later however, fortunes had changed, in July 1998 Max’s closed and remained shut and boarded up for a few years, until Tom Monahan came across it and recognized its potential.

At the time, with plywood across its windows, it looked like an abandoned Mom & Pops corner store, and most speculators and developers would have leveled it and built something new, but Tom saw something underneath the bleak façade – its history.

While excavating through dozens of years of renovations and additions, the mirrors reflected them as they got down to the original building and not only found the old brick walls, tiled floors and tin ceiling, they found Max’s original liquor licenses, from June 1, 1912, and all of the other licenses from continuing years, and have framed them on the walls.

Monahan reopened Max’s Café on June 2, 2001, and if the old German immigrants - Joe and Max came back today they would certainly recognize, not only the old neighborhood, but their old joint that Tom Monahan has lovingly restored to its former glory.

And not only did they restore the building; they brought back the original menu and specialize in simply prepared fresh seafood, especially mussels. When you think mussels, you usually think Italian, but here you them – the house specialty in a German-Irish tradition, something different.

Image result for max's cafe gloucester city nj

With the slow but solid success of Max’s, Monahan has expanded his vision and is now restoring Chubby’s, a few blocks away, that he intends to make in to a steak house, so as not to compete with Max’s, and now, rising like a Phoenix from the ashes is a new Chubby’s, that like Max’s will soon be another centerpiece gem not far from the Delaware waterfront, on the other side of the river, in old Gloucester City, N.J.

Not a place you will stumble on, unless you are really lost, but a place you make a destination and really be satisfied that you got what you anticipated – and I give it five stars for good food, fine wine, great music, exceptional motif and a history worth re-living today.

Max's Cafe - 32 N. Burlington Street, Gloucester, City, N.J.
(856) 456-9776

Fran Smith (from the Hooters) & Steve Butler (Smash Palace) every Friday
Naked Sun 5/9
Norman Taylor 5/30
Ginger Coyle
Ken Kweder 6/13

No comments: