My Favorite Place: Pals Cabin

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What was Thomas Edison ‘s favorite dish? Just a mile away, he had an industry producing over 2,900 patents of the world’s first electrical appliances, while his wife received international scientists and other inventors. Did the Edison houseguests, like Madame Currie or Eastman (Kodak) try the famous mushroom soup? Edison’s daughter, who also lived in nearby Llewellyn Park in a fairytale inspired rustic French Style Castle, affrescoed with madrigal scenes, did she take her kids to Pals for hotdogs? Or her brother Governor Edison, who lived next door in his Buckingham Palace inspired stone mansion? Of course!!

Pals Tap Room was a favorite spot for the local industrial age millionaires, who ventured over the Mountain at Eagle Rock to enjoy local grilled fare, while hobnobbing with other celebrities. They came to enjoy the view of the dawning of the new world, the spectacle of the skyscrapers rising in the distance, illuminated by Mr. Edison’s miraculous invention of electric lights. Guests from the nearby five star Hotel Montclair, (now the site of the Rockcliffe) would venture to Pals for the famous grilled meats and mushroom specialties. Montclair and Llewellyn Park, perhaps the wealthiest neighborhoods in the world at that moment, lay just at the foot of the hill. At that time, the roster of names was said to be like opening one’s medicine cabinet….Colgate, Yardley, Wilkenson, Merck and then there were the Sinclairs, the Goodyears, Auchinclosses and Roosevelts, many of whom enjoyed cruises together on luxury liners or trips to nightclubs in Bermuda, some “hot spots” designed by the very same internationally famous nightclub designers of Pals Tap Room.

When a friend of mine’s grandfather who invented the homogenization of milk dined at Pals, he demanded that his butter be brought to the table chilled in bowls of ice. He also had a concern about secretly being served garlic. The chef would have to come out of the kitchen to promise him that there was no garlic whatsoever anywhere. Another friend’s dad who lived at Undercliffe Road had a direct hotline going between his butler and Pals’ hamburger grill all hours of the night. Pals’ clients were among the wealthiest people in the world at that point in history.

My grandparents stopped in frequently and my mother and father went on dates there. From the Tap Room’s windows, you could see the Golf Club, the Holmes Estate, now Mayfair Farms, and the Holmes’s riding rink, now Whole Foods and Kmart. These were the last drops of our local fox hunt countryside, before suburbia moved in and the wealthy country estates moved farther west, to the Morris County horse country.

Who would entertain these fine industrial revolution figureheads and New York City millionaires? Henny Youngman, Jay Mills, George Brown and none other than Liberace, who was discovered at Pals! His baby grand with a brass plaque remains as the focal point of the Tap Room’s bygone glamour. Pals Cabin’s founders, the Horn Family, discovered Liberace, who had started off as their children’s piano teacher. I remember Mrs. Horn who was an acquaintance of my mother, a tall stylish lady dressed “to the Nines”.

Today, greeting the third and forth generation of Pals loyal regulars is Marty Horn’s great grandson Mike Dan, a handsome and charming spitting image of Pals Cabin’s founder. History repeats as Pals remains my favorite historic local venue.

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41 COMMENTS

  1. I have always wanted to like Pals and as interesting as this rather detailed history is, it’s akin to eating at a Denny’s with wood paneling.

  2. Nice article. I love Pals and the Tap Room although liked it better when you needed a jacket. I still try to get there monthly. Great steaks, burgers and mushrooms soup.
    I like the old menus and photos on the walls especially the ones of what now is one of the most congested intersections in the state and how it looked back in the day.

  3. Frank, si guarda come qualcuno da un’altra epoca, forse un ricco mercante olandese del 15 ° secolo, in posa per un ritratto.

    Non ho mai messo piede in Pal.

  4. I remember when Nick “The Quick” Werkman, the Seton Hall basketball great who was the leading scorer in the NCAA fror one and maybe two seasons, used to dance drunkenly on the tables at Pal’s. It wasn’t always a sort of Jersey equivalent to P.G. Wodehouse’s “The Drones Club” (as the article above makes it sound a bit).

  5. Salva il tuo denaro. Chi se ne frega se Liberace mangiato, gli hamburger succhiare. E l’, patatine fritte cielo ci aiuti.

  6. I have always loved Pal’s Burgers. However… the last two visits left me a bit wanting something a bit better. The hiomeade mushroom soup is incommparable in all the land. The service is good also.
    Lately we have been eating out at Star Pizza. I have found that their ravioli is fantastic ! ! Wife & I have bypassed the Pizza for the “Ravi” as Karen calls it. BUT, it MUST be consumed with a glass of Merlot !
    Eppes Essen in Livigton is my other hang out. The best deli in all of Jersey.

  7. I have great memories of going to Pal’s with my parents when I was a kid, and I still enjoy it. Thanks for the great article.

  8. Frank, knowing you I imagine you’ve been there already, but if not, you should go chat with the Roger and Gerald at Schneider’s hardware on Main Street. They have some great old pictures and articles about Edison and lots of great stories. It was their grandfather who opened the store and I believe the Edison’s were regular customers for a period of time.

  9. roo, you’ve got to go to Pal’s at least once. Just to walk around and feel the history. And if you’re downstairs you’ll smell the history too.

  10. Dear Tudlow….I totally cracked up into a seizure because your comment in italian is sooooo funny. It brilliantly captures a very familiar quick wicked neapolitan sarcasm….we may be related! (practically she’s saying who cares about Liberace … and that (well… the hamburgers really aren’t her cup of tea!!!) LOL Walleroo compliments me saying that I resemble a wealthy dutch merchant from the fifteenth century….it must be all of that delicious Pal’s coleslaw…(a 15th century New Amsterdam specialty!) State Street Pete….Schneiders is FABULOUS and should be preserved as a stop on the Edison Laboratories Museum Tour.
    Thanks for the nice comments! Pal’s is truly a landmark and I CRAVE the mushroom soup (probably Baristaville’s most historic local fare….along with coleslaw, grilled meats or grilled “South Orange Sloppy Joe” sandwiches.) Every time I go, I always run into old friends there.

  11. ….oh Star Tavern is another of my historic favorites…SUCH memories there! The founders were my dear childhood friend Darcell’s grandparents. Her dad is one of the famous “Jersey Boy’s”.

  12. …another place thats great is the Pancake House Diner…a few doors down from Schneiders Hardware….GREAT service with a friendly smile…

  13. Frank, such a debonair photo of you indeed!
    Loved, loved, loved your story, told like a true raconteur! Would you please write a book, already? AND, would you get us Pal’s recipe for mushroom soup? Please?

  14. Merci Annette, cherrie! Every time I want to sit down and write “that book” …. I just don’t know where to begin….so, in the mean time, I enjoy writing on Baristanet! i’ve never wanted to know the recipe for Pal’s Mushroom Soup….its like always wanting to believe in Santa Claus….its a sacred legend! (i think that its an elongated béchamel with mushroom chunks cooked into it….shhhhhhhh!!!!)

  15. Well, frankgg, my grandfather was from Sicily so that’s as close as we get. (And I took a couple of semesters of italiano in college. But all I remember is my professor constantly saying “Va bene?” and also that awesome saying “in bocca al lupo” because, well, I have always liked wolves.)

    🙂

  16. …don’t ever forget to say…”Crepi il Lupo” (death to the wolf)… after you hear…’in bocca al lupo” (Into the wolfs mouth)… otherwise the good luck spell backfires!

  17. To both the comments of thirtyseconds and Spiro I contribute the obligatory and necessary “ba doom cha!”.

    Great article Frank. I have have passed Pal’s so many times. Now I’m on a mission to go go, sit down and soak up some history (and hopefully have a good meal). Cheers.

  18. You can sort of feel a Drones Clublike atmosphere in the Tap Room around 5pm, Cathar, when some of the older clients stop in to enjoy highballs while watching the big flat screen tvs and chatting with the waiters and other customers. There is a time of day that it becomes like an old time Country Club.

  19. There are many other long-time famous restaurants in the area, that also bring to mind good days of the past.

    * Grunnings “Up and Down” on S.O. avenue for their ice cream treats
    * Don’s Drive-In on S.O. Ave in Livingston for their Burgers & Ice Cream Sundays
    * Grunnings in Montclair Center
    * Gary’s on Springfield Ave in Maplewood for their Cheese Dogs & Fries & Chicken-In-the-Basket
    * Stanley’s on Morris Ave in Springfield with their Car-Hops on Skates !
    * Clairmont Diner for their Cole Slaw (Still not topped !)
    * Bonds Ice Cream and their “Aful-Aful” (In Union & Elizabeth

    All of them long Gone, their owners long gone as well. SAD

  20. I STILL miss the old Claremont Diner. Celery and olives served in a silver tray before dinner, the famous cole slaw, matzah ball soup on cold winter night, having the maitre d’ greet your family by name, a personalized cake for your birthday when you were a kid (with butter cream icing…can’t touch the stuff now!), the best chicken fricasse I have ever had in my life, running into a neighbor or two while you were there…nothing can be compared.

  21. What great memorable places…Sandy! Once upon a time, there really werent more than a handfull of restaurants in Montclair and some of the places you list were such important meccas! …and the Wedgewood!… The Claremont Diner…oh Martta…how did that ever dissappear?
    Taped onto the refridgerater door in our kitchen is a Weightwatchers Version of the Claremont Coleslaw (placed there just in case of the apparition of a cook/saint, or the ghost of a Claremont cook past…or something like prayer card to be venerated!)

    CLAREMONT SALAD (0 points)
    3 PKGS COLE SLAW
    2 CUCUMBERS
    1 GREEN/RED PEPPER
    1 LGE RED ONION
    1 CUP VINEGAR
    1/2 CUP OF WATER
    1/4 CUP OUL (OR LESS)
    2 TBS. SALT
    2 CLOVES GARLIC CRUSHED
    1 TSP DILL SEEDS
    6 – 8 PACKS OF SWEET & LOW

  22. Nicely done, Frank, as usual. And I second Annette’s comment on the book — so many of us who move to the suburbs because of a job change have no idea of the history and the way things might have been in our bedroom communities. My family moved from NYC to Westchester County in the 50’s, and I recall having to take a history class that was half general NY State history, and half local history. Considering that Pelham was founded in 1654 there was a lot of history and it was interesting to go on field trips to some of the old buildings and revolutionary war sites. Do they do that in middle schools around here? My grade school was even named after Anne Hutchinson, a very interesting historical figure in pre-revolution (and parkway) days.

  23. Frank, we are partial to Pal’s Caesar Salad! Marty Horn Jr was also the Quarterback of Lehigh University’s football in the mid 1980’s and his wife, Diane, alo a classmate of mine is lovely!

  24. Shall we go out tonight to eat? Let’s go to “Sandy’s Place”
    For one night ONLY. all of my friends are invited. Here is the menu:

    Diners will eat on starched white linens from Pals Cabin while munching upon Clairmont’s thin celery and green olives stuffed with pemento
    and the waiters will bring over Clairmont Cole Slaw and following that, Pals Cream of Mushroom Soup, with their croutons!!
    Gary’s of Maplewood (The Friedlander family) will serve their Fried Chicken in the basket with Bar-B-Que’d Fried Onion Rings.
    Then a famous Don’s Drive In Cheese Buger flame broiled with Don’s Special sauce and a chocolate Ice Cream soda from Grunnings or a n Alfull-afull from Bonds!

  25. When I read this story about Pal’s Cabin, I had very mixed feelings. As I understand it, Pal’s Cabin exemplifies a part of history that catered to the wealthy, who were largely discriminatory toward immigrants, Jews, and non-whites.

    My great-grandmother, my grandparents and father were Jews who came to the this country in 1939 from Austria to escape the holocaust. After living in Michigan for a number of years, they bought a house and moved to West Orange, New Jersey so that they could be near my parents, when I was born. My great-grandmother got a job as a dishwasher at Pal’s Cabin to help pay the bills.

    West Orange was very different then – not many Jews (Now, of course there is a large Jewish population in West Orange)- at the time, there were quite a few mansions – kids of the rich went to riding school and working people were looked down upon. My grandparents could not afford to eat in Pal’s Cabin – and why would they want to? Even if they could have saved enough money to afford the place, they would probably have been shunned. Yes, my great-grandmother was grateful to have a job – but that’s where it ended. Unfortunately, the bitterness about the class discrimination suffered by my family has stayed with me and, although I am aware of all the praise that has been heaped on this place, I will probably never go there.

  26. Sandy’s Place is probably the most exciting idea that I have ever heard for a night on the town. Could you just imagine? I’m speechless!!!! WHAT a menu and itinerary. The only thing better than hearing all of this is imagining the line up of vintage cars that you would put together for this outing!!! Andiamo!!! Thank you Sandy!!! Can’t wait to write about it!!.. and what pictures!!!

  27. Nearby there are the three big golf clubs, all instituted around the end of the 1800s and organized by religion…Protestant….Jewish …and Catholic.

  28. Thank you, Toedance, for mentioning that. After reading some very positive reviews on Pals, I went with my brother and my son a couple of years ago. Lunchtime during the week. It wasn’t crowded but for some reason it took forever to get seated and to get any kind of service. They seated people ahead of us, so they knew we were waiting. I had to get my own menus, tracked someone down for water and to place an order, no one ever came by to check on us or refill our glasses, I had to track someone down for the check. I was trying not to be oversensitive, but the few seated tables/booths around us were getting service and we weren’t. If there was a manger around, there was no sign of him/her. And after all that, I didn’t even think the burger was anything special.

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