In the summer of 1972, I began working at Gallagher’s Pub in Avalon, New Jersey as a cook. That’s it above – must have been in the off-season. Some people may remember it by its later name, Jack’s Place.
Avalon is a town at the Jersey Shore, for any really-out-of-towners.
The circumstances surrounding how I became employed there have long been shrouded in . . . forget it, they haven’t been shrouded at all. I, along with everyone else involved, have told this story a zillion times. Here is my version.
All names have been redacted, but if there is sufficient interest, I am willing to out everyone involved.
How I Got My Job at Gallagher’s Pub
I was 17 and was working at the Rocking Chair Breakfast House in Avalon as a dishwasher. My brother, who was 22, had just begun working there as a cook, after being fired from Gallagher’s Pub, and had gotten me the job.
The Breakfast House was a horrible place to work as a dishwasher. It was open 24/7. On my first night, I worked from 11pm to 2pm. We did all the dishes by hand. Over the years, I worked at a lot of places as a dishwasher, but this was the only one that had no dishwashing machine. I suspect that was not legal. It was definitely not sanitary.
One of my co-workers was an English guy – Pete – who was spending his summer working 80 hours a week at this fine establishment. But that’s a story for another day.
So, why had my brother been fired? Well, he lived in a house with a bunch of other guys in Avalon – three or four of them were working as cooks at Gallagher’s Pub, along with a friend of my age (who is now a well-regarded life coach).
It was a nice house, much nicer than one would expect for a bunch of barely 21 miscreants. They had been renting run-down houses at the shore for four or five years.But this past year, they decided to raise money to pay for the house by running “$3 Nights”. This involved renting a hall, buying many kegs of beer, and charging $3 for entry and unlimited beer. These were wildly successful. I sold tickets to them at my high school. The cops were paid off, as most of the attendees were underage, and everyone was happy. But again, a story for another day.
So, back to Avalon. One evening, the younger sister of one of the housemates incurred some sort of injury – a broken leg, maybe. She was at a nearby hospital and they required someone related and over 21 to give permission for medical treatment.
This led to the Avalon police showing up at the door of the house my brother and his friends were renting. (Nobody had phones in their houses at the shore then, which was why the cops had to pay a personal visit).
One of the guys was home with his girlfriend, and as it turned out, two of my friends, who were there in the hope of having someone of age procure beer for them.
The guy went to the door and saw that it was a cop outside. He looked back and saw on the kitchen table a bag of . . . well, he thought it was marijuana. Of course, it was oregano.
The guy yelled at my friends to grab the bag and “take off” out the back door, which they did. At least one of them was a veteran cross-country runner who was probably at 96th street before the cops entered. (I will identify this party, as he is no longer with us: D.J. Webster, who became an award-winning music video producer in later years – he produced the famous “Voices Carry” video for Til Tuesday and worked with everyone from Jeff Beck to Stevie Ray Vaughn to Sheila E. to Billy Idol. He died of cancer at an early age, may his crazy soul rest in peace).
Anyway, the cops’ interest was piqued by all this activity. They ended up searching the house (I have no idea if they actually got a warrant), found some of what you typically found in a house of that ilk in that era, and all the guys whose names were on the lease were, as we would say then, “busted”.
The ones who worked at Gallagher’s Pub were also fired from their jobs. A few weeks after this all “went down” (again, as we would say in that era), I had a conversation with my friend, the now-life-coach, who was the one remaining cook at Gallagher’s. He said I could start working there. “Just don’t tell them whose brother you are.”
So they hired me. A few days after that, I was in the kitchen and the owner came up to me.
He asked, “Are you (my brother’s name)’s brother?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “I thought so. That’s ok.”
Steaks in Peanut Oil?
I worked there the rest of that summer and the following summer.
In the summer of 1973, the owner decided he wanted to upgrade the menu a bit, and hired “a real chef”. This guy tried to teach me how to make a white sauce, which was not something you could make on the grill or in a Frialator.
For those who haven’t worked in that sort of kitchen, below is a picture of a Frialator, although I don’t think I have ever seen quite such a clean one.
The Frialator was developed in 1918 by the Pitco company. Its owner, J. C. Pitman was eloquent on its purpose:
A man of principle. One small step for a man, one giant leap for fried food!
Anyway, this chef bought a lot of steaks, and then showed us how he was going to marinate them in peanut oil.
Maybe a week later, there was a really bad odor in the kitchen. Word got to the owner, who came in one morning and located the source, which was the aforementioned steaks. I think the chef just left them in the pantry, rather than the walk-in fridge. The owner threw all the steaks away and told me to tell the chef to come see him when he arrived. By that afternoon, my friend and I were running the kitchen.
The Scottish Ladies
I have fond memories of the Scottish ladies that we worked with there. I think they lived in Scotland most of the year, and just came for the summer. They were all related– cousins, or maybe two of them were sisters. Betty ran the kitchen. She quit in protest when my brother and his friends were fired. The following summer,she came back after her replacement was fired (see above). May was the prep cook. Sadie was a waitress, the youngest of the bunch.
If we got fresh with Sadie, she would say “Tsyoo”, or something like that. I have no idea what it literally meant, but the meaning seemed to be “go away and don’t bother me with your impertinence.”
Unusual Food Events
Lots of ridiculous things happened in the kitchen. Once, someone ordered a hoagie “hold the roll”. We looked at the slip then proceeded to fashion a rolled up conglomeration of meat, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and onions that had the shape of a hoagie but without a roll.
We had a bartender who was a really big guy. He was always trying to lose weight. Back then, a lot of restaurants, like ours, had a “Weight-Watchers Special”, typically a plate of lettuce and tomato with a can of tuna plopped in the middle. This guy would come in the kitchen and ask “Can you make me one of those tuna things?” It was too lowering to his pride to call it by its real name.
We had nickel hot dog nights. We’d put out a steam table with a bin for dogs and a bin for sauerkraut, a pile of rolls and condiments, and a jar for people to put their coins in (honor system). We had to keep the supply replenished, which could be a challenge with everything else going on. One time, we went out to check and found that the rolls were all gone. A guy was standing there with a hot dog in his hand, piling sauerkraut on top of it, then slathering it with mustard. Maybe it was the same guy who ordered the hoagie without a roll.
In Closing, the Defendant . . .
Anyway, there you have it. I moved up the career ladder from dishwasher to cook due to a broken leg, a bag of oregano and the guy who made Aimee Mann famous. (Perhaps) needless to say, we had other encounters with the police during those summers. But we’ll put those in the “another time” category as well.
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