Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Anchorage Tavern, Somers Point N. J.

The Anchorage Tavern, Somers Point, New Jersey

"Seven for one" seemed to roll off your lips naturally, and the frothy glasses were served up by the bartenders with such flowing, poetic motion to the tunes of Pennies from Heaven and Run Around Sue, it was almost like a ballet.

Set before you in a white topped, fresh-tapped circle, they were passed about like sacraments and toasted in a communion to the moment. It was a ritual that baptized more than one generation through a rite of passage from youth to adult. It was the best buck you ever spent during a typical moment in the summer of '69, '76, '81 or whenever you happened to be there.

And you go back, like they all do, to try to recapture the moment. Remarkably enough, and against all odds, the stage is still set pretty much the same as you remember it - the wood paneled walls, the mahogany arm rests, the pool tables in the back, the juke box with the same songs on it, and the musky smell that stirs a few remote membranes. It's the same, without the seven for a dollar draft beer.

The Anchorage was already a half century old when Ed Margum, the 83 year old morning bartender was born, so its earliest days are lost to living memory.

Built around 1880, the Anchorage Hotel, as it is officially known, is one of the oldest continually-operated business establishments in Somers Point. As the first hotel listed in the Atlantic County telephone book, the pay phone in the old wooden phone booth by the front door gets the occassional call for reservations for a room, although the rooms haven't been rented in 20 years and the place is now just a neighborhood saloon.

Those who cal on the phone to reserve a room have never been there. Those who have been there go back, eventually. They go back with their wives, whom they may have met there, and with their children in tow.

They order 7 for 1, but settle for a cold bottle, play the juke box, and while the kids play pool, they sit and reminisce about the best summers of their lives.

Little is known about its early history. No living person remembers the Anchorage Hotel called by any other name, although there is printed reference to the Trenton Hotel at Bay and Delaware Avenue in the mid-1800's.

The dining room, then known as the ballroom, was added to the north side of the building in 1900, and the porch was built shortly thereafter.

Victorian era photos show women in long, fluffy glowns and men in suits and ties relaxing on the ornately-trimmed spindled porch during a time when life was lived at a slower pace.

In 1910, before St. Joseph's Church was built, Father John F. Sweeney, pastor of St. Augustine's in Ocean City, aranged for the celebration of mass "in the ballroom of a local hostelry, the Anchorage Hotel."

After Prohibition ended, the Anchorage was issued C-5, the fifth liquor license in town, and was opperated for awhile by Larry Brannigan.

"What I know of Larry Brannigan is that he was known as the local Judge Roy Bean, and 'The Law east of Patcong Creek." - Larry Lee, age 80.

The Anchorage was owned by Charles Collins until 1938 when it was purchased by Lucille Cornaglia Thompson. She operated it until 1945 when she sold it to her brother, Andrew Cornaglia, who was from South Philadelphia. He operated the hotel and the bar while his wife Lucy (nee Corcione) ran the kitchen.

"My best memories of the Anchorage were when Andrew's mother and father ran it, and served the best original Italian food in Somers Point. And the price was right." - George McGonigle, age 64.

Entertainment was not the main attraction, although people recall a piano player who resembled the late Nat King Cole performing there.

The Anchorge was primarily a hotel and restaurant, its liquor receipts merely matching the dinner tabs. Lucy, the cook, was famous for her pasta sauce, which she prepared 22 gallons at a time. "It was a running joke in the family," her son Andrew recalls, "that she could cook for 120 but not for 4."

"I used to go there to play shuffleboard in 1964-65. We'd play all day and all night and never lose a game. When Andrew's father was still running the place, he played 'On the Way to Cape May' on the juke box a dozen times for the old people who patronized the place in those days." - Brad Wicks, age 43.

When his father died in the spring of 1965, Andrew, not yet 21, took over. Although he was not yet old enough to drink, he was suddenly responsible for oprating the bar, restaurant and hotel.

"When my father passed away, I didn't know vodka from gin," he says. "If it wasn't for my mother, I would not have been able to sustain the first couple of years."

Since then Cornaglia has operated five bars and restaurants, including the Anchorage. But he says it was all luck, and the biggest thigns that happened to him were never planned.

"The key things that happened to me in my life," Andrew said, "were basically working hard, lucking out, and knowing my brother-in-law Joseph Trecheck, who ran the Anchorage for many years. But all of the key things happened by accident. When it's your turn, it's your turn. That's what the fates are doing. You can make all the wrong moves, and they turn out right."

Cornaglia maintains that just forgetting to lock the front door one day was the acorn that made the Anchorage work. Because the older folks had not been patronizing the establishment since his father passed away, business was down going into the second season when a surprising thing happened. "I was mopping up on a Good Friday when we were supposed to be closed, but I had forgot to lock the door, and these guys walked in - all bartenders in this area. They just sent me people after that, and the Anchorage just took off when the young people started to drift in."

"I first went to the Anchorge on a Sunday afternoon when they had jam sessions at Bayshore and Tony Marts, and you couldn't drive down Bay Avenue because there were so many people walking in the street." - Jonas Alexy, age 40

In 1966, the Anchorage began serving seven beers for a dollar, a concept Cornaglia appropriated from Gregory's up the street on Shore Road, but an idea that began in Somers Point at Tony Marts. But it was the Anchorage that would made 7 for $1 a famous icon.

T-Shirts with "7 for $1" on the front and The Anchorage on the back were ordered stylishly different each week, and are now collector's items, and eventually outlawed by the state for promoting liquor prices.

The seven for a dollar beers continued however, until 1980 when their cost became prohibitive. But it wasn't the cost of the beer (either Piel's, Black Label or Ortleibs), it was the cost of the glasses, which were routinely broken or taken home as souveniers.

in 1966 the 6 ounce pilsner glasses cost 4 cents each, with the Anchorage going through an average of 7,200 glasses a season. By 1980, the same glass cost 34 cents.

"No one ordered just seven for one," explains Cornaglia, "you would get your orders for seventy, a hundred. There would always be a bar full of beer, a backup of people who wanted beer, and two people collecting empty glasses at all times. It was a great scavanger hunt."

Saturday of Labor Day weekend, 1970 was the best day ever recorded, when the Anchorage went through 44 half-kegs, which amounted to 17,556 beers. The bartenders learned to pour and cary seven beers at a time, so watching them work was considered the best entertainment in town.

"Most of my memories of teh Anchorage had to be recounted to me by someone else the next morning." Robert Megronigle, age 33.

In its prime, the Anchorage was just one stop on the Bay Avenue circut that also included Tony Marts and Bayshores, where the bands rotated on two stages, offering continuous live music. But there was a cover charge at those place, and the beer was more expensive, so the Anchorage became a quick pit stop before and after people went to the band bars.

"I could tell by the influx of people when they changed the bands at Tony Marts," Cornaglia recalls.

"In July 1974 I needed a new roomate and went to the Anchorage and met Bonnie. After two beers and two minutes, I not only had a roommate, but I had a best friend for life." - Terry Brown, age 37.

Cornaglia also developed another bar called Mother's, just outside of Somers Point in Egg Harbor Township, on the other side of Lousey Harbour Bridge to Longport. Mother's, which had previously been known as O'Byrne's, the Mug, the Villa and the Purple Villa, had a 24-hour license, so when the Somers Point bars closed at 2 AM, Mother's was the place to go.

Bands like Neco Allen, Johnny Caswell and the Crystal Mansion, Airport and Hit & Run carried on the music from Bayshores and Tony Marts. Some of Caswell's songs are still the most popular tunes on the juke box at the Anchorage.

"All thigns pass on. I never thought it would, but it did," Cornaglia says. "It was an era when things were different. Things were cleaner, people had more fun, the Anchorage was a fun place to come to work and a fun place to be. It was a time that you had to live to know."

Looking back, we didn't even know how unique it was until the bottom fell out," he says. "And I'm glad the bottom fell out, or I would be in my grave. It as something that only those who witnessed could marvel over. It wasn't the money, it was the hurrah."

"I remember when Pennies from Heaven came on the juke box, pennies would fly through the ar." - Lynda McNally, age 35

Although the boom years would continue into the next decade, the bigginning of the end started on January 1, 1973, when the drinking age was lowered to 18, the kitchen closed and tehy stopped renting the hotel rooms upstairs.

"Now I recall talking to all the tavern owners at the time, and we didn't want the age dropped," Cornaglia remembers. "Everyone was content, and we were frightened of that element, the 18, 19 year olds."

"I was enthralled to be a 19-year old bartender at a place that was considered a legend to my generation. It was wall-to-wall people and lines to get in, with the fire marshal controlling the crowd at the door. There were 10 bartenders, nine floormen-bouncers, and two glass pickers working most nights from 1978 to 1983. Then the drinking age went back to 19 and then back to 21, but it took a few years for it to become a local bar again." - Pat Piriano, age 35

The end of the 1970's was also the end of another era. By 1980, the music began to die as well. Mother's, which Cornaglia had sold three years earlier, burned down on Labor Day 1980. Bayshores was sold and leveled in 1981 and Tony Marts closed and followed suit in 1982.

"When I got out after eight years in the service, everything had been knocked over. Bayshores was gone, Tony Marts was gone, the Anchorge was the only one left that didn't become a Yuppie bar." - Bruce Douger, age 43.

Although it is one of the oldest establishments in Somers Point, and has a quaint, historic look to it, Cornaglia balks at renovating it. "I've had plans for the Anchorage," he says. "When I came in I was a rookie, and now I'm a senior, but I'm only 48 years old, and this is my favorite place in the world."

"I could never go into the Anchorage because my father was a policeman (later chief), and he told mee to stay out of the Anchorage. The first time I went in there, I met the man who is now my husband." - Dot Bader Hunt, age 46

"Everybody has a place where it all happened in their life," Cornaglia reflects. "It all happened here, and tehy all come back. They come back because it was a time in their life tehy can't recapture. As time goes by, places like the Anchorage go underground, like dinosaur bones. My philosophy is almost extinct too, but it's the same philosophy I've had for 28 years. Come in, have a good time, and don't cause any trouble. That's it."

"The Anchorage has always been something you could hold on to. It's always been the Anchorage. When everybody else has changed, the Anchorage stayed the same. It's like an anchor. You'll find everyone from professors to bums off the street there. The Anchorage does not discriminate." - Nace Benner, age 44.

[From 300 Years at the Point - A History of Somers Point, N.J.]


Having just digested and nearly vomited on reading what the The Press of Atlantic City's Answer Guy had to say about the Old Anchorage, and setting me up as the fall guy for what was being said, I have to respond immediately. It is the most dispisciple piece of garbage I've ever read and I am posting this rebuttle in the hopes that I can straighten some of it out.

I posted this under the Comments section of the Answer Guy's column:

It's quite apparent that the Answer Guy can't get the correct answer at Gregory's Bar.

I'd like to viamently protest the use of quotes attributed to me and taken from my book in order to slander the name and honor of Andrew Cornaglia and his family.

"300 Years at the Point - A History of Somers Point, N.J." was published a year before the historic Anchorage Tavern was sold and renovated.

The Anchorage was sold to Bill Morris by George Roberts, a former mayor of Somers Point and real estate broker who took a six figure "deposit" from Morris and kept it for himself. Roberts was convicted of defrauding citizens of Somers Point of millions of dollars and served time. Andrew Cornaglia was one of his victims, and has never been indicted or convicted of anything.

The SCI report contains allegations and hearsay and is wrong in many respects, especially its innacurate portrayal of Andrew Cornaglia, who I've known for over thirty years as one of the most honorable men I've ever met.

The decades old SCI report is also based, in large part, on the statements of "Crazy" Phil Merlino, a convicted killer who turned states evidence to put John Gotti, Nicky Scarfo and other mobsters behind bars, and stay out of jail himself.

The Answer Man may be able to hide his identity in order to slander someone he's never met, but no retraction, no appology can rectify the damage he has done in the guise of history.

I stand ready to testify on Andrew Cornaglia's behalf if he decides to sue you for malacious slander and libel.

William E. Kelly, Jr.

Answer Guy: Anchorage Tavern

(Published: Sunday, August 10, 2008)
A weekly feature that answers reader questions about the people, events, history and news in southern New Jersey.

Q: I remember in the early 1990s the Anchorage Tavern was a real dump and was really falling apart. I never paid attention to it for a few years and then when I did, it was completely renovated and looks like a million. What happened?

Don Anthony, Egg Harbor Township

Answer Guy: Most patrons remember seven beers for $1 - a gimmick started in 1966.

But that promo ended in the mid-1970s, according to Walt Gregory - co-owner of Gregory's Restaurant and Bar, another Somers Point mainstay - and since then, the Anchorage Tavern has changed hands many times.

The Anchorage dates back to about 1860, when it was also a hotel, according to "300 years at the Point: A history of Somers Point, New Jersey," written by William E. Kelly. Outside the Bay Avenue establishment, a plaque reads: "Dating from the late 1800s, this empire-style building was one of many tavern-hotels in the historic district. Tourists came for fishing, parties, sea bathing, hearty food and a bay view from the veranda."

But a century later, Andrew Cornaglia Jr. - otherwise known as 'Andy Anchorage' - was in charge, and he was behind the Anchorage's heyday and early '90s slump.

Andrew Cornaglia Sr. - who ran the eatery with his wife, Lucy - took over in 1945 from his sister, Lucille Cornaglia Thompson, who gained control in 1938, Kelly writes. N.J. State Commission of Investigation records, however, show the Cornaglias assumed ownership May 10, 1956.

In the 1940s and '50s, the Anchorage was a "tremendous Italian restaurant," Gregory said. After all, he said, the Cornaglias were from South Philadelphia.

Andrew Cornaglia Jr. was in his 20s when he inherited it from his father, Andrew Cornaglia Sr., who died in the early '60s, Gregory said. SCI records put the year at 1965.

By the 1970s, Kelly writes, Andrew Cornaglia Jr.'s Anchorage, Tony Marts and Bay Shore Inn formed a triumvirate of hangout spots - but only the Anchorage remains.

Gregory said it's unfair to say the Anchorage was a dump - all of the bars were back then.

"It was the best non-band bar," Gregory said. "It was just a bar."

The whole area went through a downturn, Gregory explained. It wasn't until the late '70s - when the casinos revitalized Atlantic City - that Somers Point started to turn around.

The Anchorage waited until the late-'80s to renovate, Gregory said, and it was one of the last establishments to do so.

A 1994 Press of Atlantic City article reads, "Extensive renovations are being undertaken at the Anchorage, once a dilapidated tavern and hotel," alluding to your early '90s experience.

But in the early '90s, Andrew Cornaglia Jr. had more to think about than his bar.

A 1992 Press article reports how the SCI fingered Andrew Cornaglia Jr. as part of Nicodemo Scarfo's crime syndicate - and how the Anchorage "was frequented by Scarfo and his associates, including Saul Kane." Cornaglia also helped Kane - who was sentenced to 95 years for drug trafficking - use the Anchorage to transport and store P2P, "the chemical precursor of the drug methamphetamine, commonly called 'speed,'" according to SCI records.

Cornaglia, SCI records show, also helped acquit Scarfo of the 1979 murder of Vincent Falcone, "a Family associate."

A Press article from 1994 then explains how Cornaglia paid $43,548 in back taxes and penalties as part of a deal with the state Attorney General's Office.

But Cornaglia hadn't forgotten his bar. Kelly's 1994 book quotes him as saying: "I've had plans for the Anchorage. ... This is my favorite place in the world."

He nonetheless sold it to Bill Morris in September 1993, according to SCI records. Morris poured $700,000 into new walls, ceiling, floors, kitchen and front deck between October 1993 and May 1994, a Press article shows. Morris also said he planned to invest another $300,000 into the second floor - so that's one piece of the refurbished puzzle.

But a fire in September 2006 gutted the building and forced the next owner to rebuild from the foundation up.

Don Mahoney - the current owner - was undeterred.

"We're here to stay," Mahoney, who could not be reached for comment, said in 2006. "The building isn't going anywhere, and we're not going anywhere, either."

Got a question?

If you have a question you would like the Answer Guy to tackle, call 609-569-7489, or mail your question to The Press Answer Guy, The Press of Atlantic City, 11 Devins Lane, Pleasantville, NJ 08232. Questions can be faxed to 609-272-7224. E-mail:

Yea, I've got a question.

Who is The Answer Guy?

Or is he going to hide behind the faceless, nameless, anonymous diner who trashes restaurants without any accountability?

Every time somebody asks him a question about Somers Point, and this is the third or fourth time, he quotes me from the book, but he doesn't bother to call me up and ask me a question over the phone. Why don't they just pay me to write the freakin' column?

And he didn't bother to call Andrew, who lives in Somers Point and isn't very hard to find.

It's now an established fact that The Answer Guy can't get accurate answers sitting at Gregory's bar.

I question whether Don Anthony is a pal of "The Answer Guy" or his editor, and set up the question, rather than it being a legitimate question wondered by a real Press of Atlantic City subscriber.

And he doesn't even Answer the question, of when, why and how the Old Anchorage became the New Anchorage, a real good story that involves George Roberts, the former Mayor of Somers Point and real estate brokerwho took a six figure deposit on the sale of the Anchorage from Bill Morris, without bothering to tell the owner of the property. This questionable sale ended up in court, and Roberts was found guilty of fraud and served time for swindling millions of dollars from Somers Point residents over the course of decades. And the Anchorage was one of those frauds and Andrew Carnaglia was the victim.

But you won't read about that in the Answer Guy's column.

And I'm really pissed off at the besmerching of Andrew and his family and using my name to legitimize the slander and libel of an honorable man and fine family of proud to know.

Now Who is The Answer Guy?

Bill Kelly August 10, 2008

For research purposes, here's some of the SIC reports that "The Answer Guy" refers to:

And if you actually read the SCI report it says that "Scarfo was upset because ...they didn't include him in the Purple Villa....Andrew Cornaglia bought the bar and business and operated the bar under the name of Mother's for a few years." - In other words, Scarfo had nothing to do with it.

And, "Along with others, including two other bar owners, Cornaglia perjured himself at the trial by fabricating an alibi for Scarfo, Leonetti and Merlino." Yet, he wasn't indicted for perjury.

That "fingers" him as "part of Scarfo's crime syndicate"?

Note that the SCI report makes a distinction between "members" of this "Family" and "associates" of Scarfo's "syndicate."

Cornaglia is identifed as an associate, which I assume makes him a friend and not an intimate or a cousin, or a "made" man who swears allegiance to the mob.

Andrew Cornaglia has his own family, and the Press is wrong for associating him with Scarfo's criminal family based on a SCI report - which by the way, was put together by three people, one a lawyer, and is based on the statements of Leonetti and other such hearsay by criminals trying to cop a plea.

1 comment:

lilacsky said...

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