The repeal of Prohibition on December 5, 1933, made Murphy’s Tavern legit, but owners Robb McMahon and Heather Vena, below, plan to take the Rumson bar back to its speakeasy days. (Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Heather Vena and Robb McMahon, who’ve owned Murphy’s Tavern for seven years, plan to shut the watering hole down for one week next month to give it a bit of a makeover.
Still located in the basement of a house in a quiet residential area, Murphy’s will undergo minor cosmetic changes, including the removal of some television sets, a paint job and the installation of whiskey-barrel tables.
Those will be the most visible steps in a repositioning that’s largely about offering whiskeys and bourbons more conducive to sippin’ than slammin’, and a vibe to go with it.
“We’re going to focus on the era in which we were born,” Vena tells PieHole.
“What makes us unique is our history, dating back to an era when locals, and those in the know, came down here to have a drink and conversation,” McMahon says.
The bar traces its lineage to the days when the André family started making beer in a garage behind the Ward Lane house sometime after the 1920 passage of the Volstead Act made the manufacture of alcoholic beverages verboten.
Here’s a well-researched history of Murphy’s by beer maven Jeff Linkous.
“It was very informal,” and known to local authorities, who turned a blind eye to its existence, says McMahon. “It was not a knock-on-the-door, ‘Joe-sent-me’ type of place. Somebody just started selling booze out of the basement. Nobody said anything. You were looking out for the feds, not the local police.”
The place became “a hideway for working people” around the Oceanic neighborhood, he said.
The return to roots will include mostly atmospherics, such as bartenders in suspenders, music from the old days on the jukebox and higher-end hard liquor. Not all the TVs will go, but to the extent that Murphy’s is a sports bar now, that aspect will be further de-emphasized, the owners say.
“We like sports, but it’s not our focal point,” Vena says.
Murphy’s will close for the makeover on Sunday, January 12 and reopen the following Friday, Vena says.