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 builders 1,
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 larger 2,
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 Jewish home.
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 nesselrode pie).
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 food. 3
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
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
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 marriage.
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
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 pudding. 4
"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
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.
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
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 Montclair.
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.
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