By Kurt Epps—The PubScout
The year was 1968. A lot of serious, crazy stuff was happening in the US. But the college guys I ran with were pretty much oblivious to it, preferring to focus on more important issues.
Like going to Tierney's Tavern on Valley Rd. in Montclair.
A group of us Montclair State students who would graduate in 1969 would convene regularly at this classic Irish pub to suck down a brew or two, gorge on the delicious cheeseburgers, talk sports, girls and engage in what we considered high philosophical debate. (I once proved that we don't exist because "now" is too infinitesimal to measure. It's amazing how smart college students think they are.)
But outside of our apartments, Tierney's was the place that the song from Cheers talked about, where everybody knows your name.
Fast forward forty years. I'd taken my 17-year-old middle son to scope out MSU (it was only a state college when I went) as a potential college choice. My alma mater had changed considerably since I trod its footpaths. Beyond changing its mascot from a noble, proud and revered Indian to some bird, a politically correct act for which I have never forgiven it, the number, newness and size of the buildings was astonishing. There's even a 24-7 diner and an NJ Transit station right on campus. And the dorms are co-ed. What's up with that? I got kicked out of mine for wrapping a comely, willing lass up in a rug and transporting her to my boudoir to see my itchings etchings. And now it's officially approved by the college? Just shows how forward-thinking I was.
The tab to attend was also a tad larger than I remember, but, in terms of what some colleges are charging for a "liberal" [emphasis mine] education, it's pretty much a bargain.
But our tour and my nostalgia being done, I told my hungry teen (is there any other kind?) I was introducing him to my old favorite pub, just in case he decided to attend MSU. We sidled up to the bar right in front of the flag that says: Ireland—United—Gaelic—and Free.
Things were not much different in Tierney's in 2008 than they were in 1968—unless you count that, Cheers song be damned, NOBODY knew my name. I didn't feel too badly about that, considering some friends my age I see regularly can't remember my name either. But Tierney's constancy came through. Same buff colored walls done in ersatz wattle and daub, same huge American flag dominating the back wall, same hustle and bustle near the kitchen door, same long hardwood tables and chairs for twelve on either side.
The HD TV's positioned in key locations around the walls were a far cry from the mounted TV I remember over the bar that had only six channels—and dials on it that had to be turned to change channels. "Clickers" hadn't been invented yet.
Also interesting is that Tierney's has incorporated some far better beers than what was generally proffered in my heyday (you know which beers I'm talking about)—not that any in my circle gave a damn back then.
TJ, the burly, friendly and welcoming bartender at the top of the page (another thing about Tierney's that has remained constant) is part of the ancient Tierney clan that has run this iconic pub since 1934. He allowed that in the beer category, Pabst was making a big comeback. Go figure.
He had 10 taps running, and a few of the beers were worthy of a beer geek's attention, like the Blue Point Toasted Lager (above right), which was perfectly poured. He also noted that the pub was going to acquire four more lines very soon.
I ordered one of my old standbys from yesteryear to accompany my Blue Point: Liverwurst on rye with mayo and raw onion. Still big, thick, fresh and tasty as I recall. And the Toasted Lager worked magnificently with it.
I asked TJ if I could snap his mug shot, and he said, "Absolutely no problem. The Sopranos shot an episode here in Tierney's and I was in it, serving beer, of course.
Forty years ago, when we'd leave Tierney's, it was a foregone conclusion that we'd return. Forty years later, the conclusion is the same, whether my son attends MSU or not. Of course, if he does, that would make visits to him and Montclair far less burdensome.
And far more frequent.