There are things in Bayonne that haven’t changed and are unlikely to anytime soon: spectacular sunsets over Newark Bay, laundromats bustling on Sundays, and homes elaborately decorated for Halloween and Christmas. There are also local spots with a long shelf life, places where time stands still. Here are a few gems that go a long way to making Bayonne Bayonne.
At the corner of Broadway and 31st Street, Hendrickson’s Restaurant retains the subdued charm of a bygone era. Originally a grocery store, the historic building served as city hall (with a few jail cells in the cellar) where political meetings were held.
In 1887, Charles Hendrickson bought the building and opened a saloon that it was said smelled like “old Europe.” When Randy Capriola and his partner took over the restaurant in 1981, they kept the signature design and paintwork. After Capriola died 14 years ago, his wife Angela ran the business. “Hendrickson’s is a landmark building that even people outside of Bayonne have heard of,” she says. “So many memories are tied to this restaurant. Elderly couples can still find the booth where they had their first date, and families that are no longer in Bayonne often come here for a reunion.”
Sun sifting through lovely stained-glass windows suffuses the place with a sense of nostalgia. The indirect lighting, dark-wood paneling, and moose head on the brick wall set the mood for diners who want to sip a whiskey on a wicked winter night, or a cold beer on a hot one, while chatting with the friendly bartender. The old piano is always ready for a hearty sing-along. “The second time you come here the waitress or the bartender will recognize you,” Angela says, “and the third time will be like you’ve been here forever.” Specials like the delicious French onion soup, Steak Murphy, and Sauerbraten keep diners coming to Hendrickson’s cozy booths upholstered in dark green leather. “We still serve the same steak sandwich from the past century,” says Angela. “The secret has been handed down.”
Barney Stock Hosiery Shops
Barney Stock, a Polish immigrant, came to Ellis Island in 1920, and by 1923, he was an English-speaking retail owner with a shop in the heart of Bayonne. Today, his son Mel runs Barney Stock Hosiery Shops, which carries a large supply of bras (including mastectomy bras), underwear, hosiery, maternity wear, nightgowns, bathing suits, slippers, handbags, and the best-selling Spanx. The store also sells cosmetics—brands like Estée Lauder and Clinique.
“A lot of the old-time stores, mom-and-pop places have gone out of business,” Mel says. “Broadway is emptier; the movie theater is gone. The mall has taken a lot of traffic from us.” Despite the increased competition, Barney Stock survives by providing personal service. “We measure our customers for undergarments,” Mel says. He has four or five women on staff, including Lois who has worked there since she was a teenager, who do the measuring. There are other perks. “With minimum purchase, we refund their parking-meter money, and we give them travel purses as gifts,” Mel says. “We also send items to our loyal customers who have moved out of Bayonne.” Mel has a photograph from 1946 that shows a long line of women waiting in the cold outside Barney Stock to buy nylon stockings—a rare thing in World War II, since nylon was used to make parachutes. “If I hadn’t been in grammar school at that time, I would have been out there, serving hot chocolate to those ladies,” Mel says.
In previous years, Barney Stock offered gift certificates to any woman who could identify herself in the old photograph. This year, to coincide with the store’s 90th anniversary, Mel is running a contest to find Barney Stock’s oldest register receipt. The customer who brings it in will receive a $50 gift certificate. It’s time to open that old trunk.
Walk into Chris’ Corner, and you’ll feel like you’ve been invited to dinner by a large and jovial Italian family.
Fifty-five years ago, Philip Crisonino’s parents Anselmo and Theresa opened Chris’ Corner, which would become the oldest family-owned restaurant in Bayonne. Today, Philip, who began his career washing dishes there, runs the business with a whole army of children, grandchildren, a son-in-law, and waitresses who’ve been on the job for 35 years.
Customers are part of the family: A group dines here every single Friday. A steak is named after a regular client, and a bar stool carries the name of a beloved patron who passed away. “We are with our customers from beginning to end,” Philip says. “They come for their communions, birthdays, graduations, weddings, retirement parties and, finally, funerals.”
The walls, painted in red and white, along with the green leather booths, echo the Italian flag. The menu is based on mouthwatering Italian-American dishes, like chicken Rocco, shrimp scampi over rice and the mixed fish fry, fritto misto di pesce. Most of the recipes came from Philip’s grandmother and uncles. His daughter Liz, who is a manager at the restaurant, says that they regularly entertain clients with live music, Motown dinner shows, impersonators, and murder-mystery dinners. They also have a catering hall where they host events.
“We started delivering in 1969, and we were the first restaurant to do it,” Phillip recalls. “In those days, you had several areas in Bayonne: Polish, Irish and Italian. When somebody called for a delivery, the last named more often than not ended in ‘ski.’ Now, the clientele is more diverse; we treat everybody like family.”—BLP
Al Richard’s Chocolates
Since 1978, Al Richard’s Chocolates has been the favorite place for those who want to indulge a sweet tooth. Their truffles have won the hearts of many women, their chocolate Scottie dogs have made children squeal with joy, and their break-up chocolate must have consoled a man or two.
Inspired by the tiny but successful candy counter of a luncheonette in Jersey City, the Stancampiano brothers, Alfred and Richard, started a candy-making business. They wanted to buy a chocolate-coating machine, so they put down $300 at a roulette table in Atlantic City. Lady Luck being on their side, they returned with $3,000.
Fred and Richard thought that Bayonne was a good area to open a business, and very soon everything was coming up roses. Their fearless creativity, affordable prices, and warm relationship with their customers made Al Richard’s a legend in town. Nevertheless, in 2005, the Stancampiano brothers sold the shop to work in the financial market. During the rough economy of 2008, they bought Al Richard’s back.
The quality of Al Richard’s handcrafted chocolates has endured for 36 years, but, according to Fred, Bayonne has changed a lot over the last few decades. “In the past, Polish, Irish, and Italian people would fill the store on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, but now the ethnic mix is richer, and Valentine’s Day, embraced by all cultures, has become the biggest holiday for us.” Over the years, the brothers have embedded many wedding rings in their chocolates. “We also guide husbands who want to offer chocolate as an apology to their wives, though sometimes the jewelry store is the only solution,” Fred says with a laugh.
Especially around Easter, chocolates in Al Richard’s come in wonderful shapes—fire trucks, cats with yellow bows, dolls, frogs with bulging eyes, even iPhones and PlayStation joysticks. The stellar chocolate-covered pretzels, pineapples, strawberries, cheesecake bites, and sea-salt caramels are not to be missed. And if you do a good deed without expecting anything in return (paying a compliment counts), you might win the “Person of the Month” contest and find a gift basket of chocolates at your door.
George’s Hot Dogs
Anyone who took his high-school date to the old DeWitt Theater on 25th Street would remember the cart right next to it, serving fat hot dogs to hungry moviegoers. Petridis Hot Dogs, dating back to 1923, later moved to the charming store across the street.
To honor founder George Petridis, the current owner, Jack Musarra, who has been running the business for the last 25 years, changed the name to George’s Hot Dogs, but the quality of the juicy Sabrett dogs remains the same. Dressed up with ketchup, mustard, onions, relish, sauerkraut or chili, and accompanied by a Yoo-hoo, George’s tasty hot dogs are still a local favorite. You can also get corndogs and pretzels.
“We have a loyal clientele, but we also see a lot of new faces,” Jack says, “High-school students, who have gotten friendlier over the years, love us.”
With its cheerful mint and pink décor and its scrumptious franks, George’s is the hot spot for hot dogs.