Gregory’s Bar & Restaurant is a small neighborhood bar that locals and visitors alike frequent all year round. But this corner bar is also a piece of Somers Point history. What originally started as a shore hotel has evolved into the official home of Taco Tuesday, a bustling nightlife scene and a great spot for outdoor cocktails and live music. This week, I sat down with Gregory Gregory (yup, you read that right) to get the true backstory of one of our favorite places.
When I walked into the bar that I drive past every day, the bar that called me home from college to meet up with neighborhood friends, the bar that I learned how to play quarters and introduced me to my first Mexican draught beer, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of nostalgia. I realized in that moment that some of my favorite times were had here. But it wasn’t until recently that I stumbled upon some of the history that made this place the Greg’s we know and love today.
Kate: Tell us a little bit about Gregory’s the business and how it was established with your family.
Gregory: During prohibition in Philadelphia my grandfather ran an eatery in Kensington. After prohibition was over, a friend asked if he’d like to buy a liquor license. He was like, “Why would I want a liquor license?” And the man said, “Because you were selling liquor all through prohibition”. My grandfather thought Philadelphia was going down the tubes in the 40’s so they came down to Somers Point, where they would summer. The war had just ended, and my father came with them. Mr. Davis owned the hotel…it was called The Davis Hotel and the bar was in the cellar. My father said [to Mr. Davis], “So you make the money in the bar?” And Mr. Davis said, “Nah, not a lot of people come in. It’s downstairs and its dank.” So he asked about the dining room upstairs. Mr. Davis said, “Nah, that’s pretty much for the guests of the hotel.” So he said, “Well, how do you make your money?” “The girls in the rooms kick back every night. And that’s why I’m selling.” During the war, Somers Point had a lot of shady things going on. And one of them was this place. And once the war was over, they said no more shady business. So [my grandparents] made the purchase. They bought this [bar] and one little, tiny parking lot across the street and the house on the corner across from the Somers Point Beach for $16,000. And all his friends said, you’ll never get that out of it. You’ll never make it. And now I tell everyone, “it’s almost paid off!”.
After their first season as business owners in Somers Point, Greg’s grandfather and his brother realized they had to make some changes. That’s when the bar emerged from the cellar and moved to the location it’s in today. It started out as a small ten seat bar, but before the first anniversary of the bar being upstairs, they were busy enough to put an addition on the property to expand the bar and dining room. The next year, they put in one of the biggest continuous bars in South Jersey. Gregory’s has been in Somers Point for 75 years and has been owned, at times, by four family members at once.
Kate: As a Somers Point resident, I know who you are. But tell us a little bit about how you stay involved with the community.
Gregory: It started a long, long time ago when I was a little boy. My grandfather, Pop Gregory, ran this picnic [The Kawana’s Picnic], and I was born on his birthday and would like to think I was one of his favorites, and he took me everywhere…meetings and the parades. Then, when I was in college, I took public speaking and leadership in the community at Temple University. I love the small town feel that I’ve gotten from Somers Point as a kid. I still lead the parades… I took my children and now their children to handout candy canes and gifts. When I boy Mr. DiOrio ran a movie event at Dawes Avenue School at Christmas time. And we would go to Grants, which is now Big Lots. We would all have carts, myself, Joe and Dennis, and Mr. DiOrio would walk up and down the isle and pull games and toys and gifts. And we would fill the shopping carts with all these toys. Then, at Dawes Avenue they would show a movie and two cartoons, and after that, Santa Claus would give out toys and he handed out full sized snickers and milky ways. That was a great event and I remember that to this day. I’ve always been blessed with the treatment that I’ve gotten here [in Somers Point]. I’ve been asked to run for Mayor over the years, and city councilman from both parties, but I really didn’t want to put my families through the politics. I think that I do more for the city with the politicians and the elected officials, police officers and the school board, when I champion a project, I always make sure it is in the public good. If it’s in the public good, I step behind it.
Kate: So, did the Kawana’s Picnic turn into the Good Old Days Picnic?
Gregory: Well, it took a couple of years, but that is pretty much what the premise was. The first year that we took over in ’79 was the Good Old Days picnic. I got on the committee with everybody to help start it. And the guy that used to run the little league was the speaker, Harold Eckbold. He was the Master of Ceremonies. I said to Nick <Regina>, “I can do it better than this. I want to be the Master of Ceremonies”. I have been the “Man in the Top Hat” ever since.
Ahhhh, the top hat. If you’re from Somers Point you have either been to the Good Old Days Festival or a holiday parade and undoubtably have noticed Greg Gregory in his top hat. That first year that he took over as the Master of Ceremonies, a grey top hat was gifted to him. Unfortunately, it only lasted for two years before it was stolen. The city stepped up and called The Philadelphia Hat Company and bought a black one to replace the original. The hat is only broken out for special events and sometimes parades, but Greg Gregory in his top hat is a delightfully quirky Somers Point staple.
The past 18 months have been hard on everyone. Covid-19 has put restaurant and bar owners into survival mode. But with every storm comes a silver lining, and my favorite silver lining is the addition and expansion of outdoor dining. When the pandemic hit, Gregory’s ‘Backyard’ spilled onto the sidewalk and invited people to dine beside the bar. While the Backyard isn’t new, the demand to drink and dine outdoors has exploded, which has led to a new, larger bar in the Backyard that is now staffed daily. A more recent addition has come this summer. ‘The Porch’ can be accessed from the Backyard. It provides patrons a cool shady spot to sit and sip while enjoying the view. The most fascinating part of the Porch for me, though, is the way they incorporated the old hotel into the new expansion. The bar that is attached to the porch was actually room number 5 of the Davis Hotel. The door to the hotel room has been repurposed as a closet door, with a fresh coat of paint. But the original room number and hardware are still in place, a subtle nod to the history of the establishment.
A more recent piece of the Gregory’s story is Taco Tuesday. A few years ago, I stumbled upon an article that mentioned that a Somers Point hotel owned the trademark for “Taco Tuesday”. So I asked Greg about it.
Gregory: In 1977 I was running a bar called The News Stand in The Clothes Pin which was a bar/nightclub in Philadelphia. In 1978 I opened up a second one for them in The Gallery Shopping Center in Center City in Philly…At lunch, I went down to the food court to see what everyone was eating. And there’s a line at a place called ‘Taco’. It’s Mexican food. The next day, I went back, and again, it’s the longest line in the place. So in ’79 I come back to this place [Gregory’s] and said we have to put tacos on the menu. They sell like you wouldn’t believe in Philadelphia.
Greg got some push back from his partner, Walt, so he compromised and suggested they just do them one night a week. At the time, Tony Marts had Drink and Drown Wednesdays and to avoid competing with that, they settled on Tuesday. A few weeks later, a friend called and asked if they were going to have tacos that week. With their first taco customer heading to the shore, Greg said to Walt, “I gotta figure out how to make tacos”. Luckily, a friend of Greg’s had been living in Texas and offered to lend a hand. After they tracked down the proper ingredients for Mexican food, and nailed down their salsa (the recipe, the one that you can still enjoy today, came from Playboy Magazine) they were off and running. A former teacher of Greg’s encouraged him to put a trademark on Taco Tuesday. Two weeks later, that teacher set up the meeting with a patent attorney. And the rest is history. After some legal battles with a national chain restaurant, Greg’s still has the trademark for Taco Tuesday here in New Jersey.
We decided to stretch our legs so that I could get the official tour. We started out back to see the new bar in the Backyard, which is more than double the size of the bar it replaced. Next, Greg took me up to the Porch which led us into the portion of the building that was the original hotel. The hotel room doors are still hung from their original hinges with the room numbers still in place. And if that wasn’t enough history for the day, we ventured down to the cellar where the original speakeasy was first opened in the hotel. You can still see the outline of the stairs that lead law-breaking patron’s down for a 14-cents beer at a bar that now resides in the dining room.
Greg shared so many stories about his life, including his time as captain of the crew team at Temple, his days as a bouncer & bar back in Philly and how he met his wife. He dove deep into the history of Gregory’s as a business, being staffed now by his growing family, including his children and grandchildren. His enthusiasm for this town is contagious. And the balancing act of keeping Gregory’s current with live music and new outdoor dining options, all while preserving it’s history, shady bits and all, is remarkable. So if you haven’t been, or even if it’s just been a while, get over to Gregory’s to enjoy the new Porch, catch up with old friends and have a taco or two. I’ll see you there!
Gregory’s is located at 900 Shore Road in Somers Point
For more information, check out their website http://gregorysrestaurantandbar.letseat.at/
Written by Kate Holst July 2021