LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP — Nestled among beach houses on a tight oceanside street in the North Beach Haven section of the township is the Hudson House Bar, once a speakeasy during Prohibition and quite possibly the oldest bar on Long Beach Island.
The Hudson House Bar, or “The Hud,” as locals affectionately call it, dares to defy the idea that a classic shore bar needs a well-stocked bar, a menu, and a dance floor so the cover band can belt out Bon Jovi hits and Journey ballads.
The bar’s decor has also earned labels such as “hole in the wall” and “dive bar.” Erica Felten, 28, daughter of owner Ross Felten, said she loves the labels.
“I think it’s great. I embrace it. You want upscale and you want to stick your nose in the air, well, go somewhere else,” said Erica, who has been tending bar at the Hud for 10 years — since it was legal for her to serve alcohol.
As the alcohol flows and songs replay on the jukebox’s limited playlist, the tall tales about the Hud’s history start to circulate. The bar dates back to the before the turn of the 20th century, so the stories can sound more legend than fact.
Former Hudson House bartender Brion Magnani said there was a murder and a birth at the Hudson House. He said he’s not sure when, but swears it did happen.
“The birth happened right over there, where the bathrooms are,” he said pointing across the bar. “And the murder, it happened out back. Two sisters lived here and one of them, their husband was beating on her and her sister shot him dead, out back,” he said.
Doorman Albert Kleine, 22, of Philadelphia, gulped from a frosted beer mug at the end of the bar that was repaired some time ago with duct tape. It was a recent Monday and Kleine has the night off. He said he hates Fridays and Saturdays because they are too busy.
Kleine said he has learned bits and pieces of the Hud’s history from bartenders and customers have also told him stories, although he said Ross Felten is not one to talk about the bar’s history.
The stumpy, fading green building must have been upscale in its heyday when it was the Hotel Waverly in the 1870s.
A black-and-white framed photo of the Waverly House Bed and Breakfast hangs above the bar. After Beach Haven was founded in 1874, William Hewitt built the Waverly House and started selling parcels of land in what is now the North Beach Haven section of Long Beach Township.
But after years of intentional disrepair, the Hud now resembles a haunted house, something akin to the Addams Family home with its peeling paint, strips of duct tape holding cracked windows together and lack of landscaping.
“Dad keeps it exactly the way it was. His idea of a renovation is duct tape,” Erica Felten said. “We only recently got two flat-screen TVs.”
The three-story building houses the bar on the first floor and tenants rent apartments upstairs, Ross Felten said.
Inside the bar is a dartboard, pinball machine and a 1950s 22-foot shuffleboard table that people play all night long.
The beer is cheap and many patrons can be seen clutching sweaty $3 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Erica Felten said the most expensive drink is $6. And there is no fancy food or typical bar munchies such as fries, burgers and chicken wings, she said.
“This is the menu. All we got,” said bartender Charles Power as he held up a metal rack with small bags of potato chips.
But most of the patrons are not looking to belly up to the bar for a meal — they want to drink.
In a T-shirt with cutoff sleeves, 41-year-old Eric Pearson, a township resident, gripped a Yuengling Lager draft on a recent Monday night inside the Hud. Pearson said he works in the kitchen at Buckalew’s Restaurant in Beach Haven and when his shift is done, he can usually be found at the Hudson House.
He said people come to the Hud because it’s a hole in the wall — no dress code, no pretension, no nonsense.
“I just got off work. I probably couldn’t go anywhere else in a cutoff T-shirt,” he said loudly over the thump of the jukebox.
“It’s the locals’ hangout and a lot of people in the food service industry come in here after they get off work,” he said.
And then, during the summer months, there is the tourist element, which Pearson said he doesn’t mind even though other locals do.
Five-year veteran doorman Rich Yeager said the Hudson House is everyone’s hometown bar. Every other bar in the area is “too clubbish,” he said as he checked IDs at the door. Each time he opened the black door to the bar, the scent of beer, sweat and a musty old building wafted outside.
“It’s a great little bar. Everyone on vacation that’s coming here has a bar in their town they can relate this to,” Yeager said.
Kathleen Turco bicycled to the Hud from a few streets away on a recent Monday evening. In white shorts and gold flats, she parked her bicycle in the dusty gravel parking lot as she puffed a cigarette. Turco, 30, of Hoboken, Hudson County, said the Hudson House is a family tradition that started with her grandparents.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 18. Well, he doesn’t know that,” Turco said, pointing to Yeager, 39, of Stafford Township.
At the end of every hard-partying night, Turco said, the Hud is where everyone ends up.
“This seriously is the best bar in New Jersey. Forget the guidos dancing in Seaside. The Hud is homebase for everyone,” she said.
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