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Deep Dive: Krug’s Tavern – Preserving Newark’s History

The Mr. Local History Project (MLH) has been preserving and promoting Jersey local history since the non-profit was established in 2019. For this piece, we are on a mission to create the definitive online history of Krug’s Tavern, an Ironbound Newark landmark family institution. Krug’s Tavern, a shot and beer joint that’s survived thru WW2, the Riots, and gentrification, the four generations continue the family legacy with this legendary watering hole. Now Krug’s has reached its 90th anniversary, the non Profit Mr. Local History Project honors this monumental achievement will introduce a new keepsake collectible of the tavern screened on wood to the New Jersey Historic Village collection.

2022 – Krug’s Turns 90
Wooden Keepsake Honors the Landmark & Krug’s History

Krug's Tavern - Newark Wooden Keepsake
Order your own piece of history. Screened on wood will be an artist’s rendering of Krug’s on the front, and the history on the back.
Size is about 4x6x 3/4 inch thick. Exclusively online. Limited run. Don’t hesitate! Order Yours Today

To honor the 90th anniversary of Krug’s Tavern, a statewide New Jersey non-profit who works to preserve and promote New Jersey’s local history was honored when Krug’s Tavern story was recommended to be added to the New Jersey Historic Village collection. “I was so happy to nominate Krug’s to the village,” says Brooks Betz, Trustee at the Mr. Local History Project. “It’s not easy to get into this program but you can’t deny that Krug’s Tavern in Newark is a great family business that has become a local landmark that has now only survived, it’s been reborn.” Betz was introduced to Krug’s back in the early 90’s by his father in law, who was raised in Vailsburg and a Newark police officer.

Congratulations Krug’s Tavern – 90 Years Serving Down Neck

Krug’s Tavern History

Some call it a dive bar. Other call it a shot and beer joint. Call it what you will but for the past 90 years, Krug’s Tavern has be serving Down Neck locals of the Ironbound community for the last 90 years has always been known as the neighborhood gathering spot. To many more, it’s a home away from home as the LaMotta’s treat you like family. Longtime a home to Newark cops, firemen and long shore men, Krug’s has always been at the center of the community on the corner of Wilson and Napoleon Streets.

Let’s first take a look at the origin of the family name Krug. I had to smile when I found the definition; the meaning of KRUG includes the metonymic occupational name for a maker or seller of drinking jugs. It also includes those who drink, drinking, heavy drinker, drinking vessel, and tavern keeper. So when you enter the tavern, you know you’re in the right place for a good time.

We chuckled when searching the origins of the surname “Krug” when we noticed the definition included “tavern keeper.” How appropriate.

The Krug’s history starts back in March, 1932 when Frank and Laura Krug opened Krug’s Tavern on 118 Wilson Avenue in the Ironbound section of Newark. After 24 years of operating the tavern, when Frank Krug died in 1956, the bar was willed to his daughter Edna Krug LaMotta, who married Casper LaMotta.

Strangely, for the next 24 years, Edna and Casper held control of the bar until Edna’s passing on September 9, 1978 when the bar transferred to the third generation owners when the bar was willed to Frank & Laura’s 3 children – Frank, Robert, Edna Krug.  Edna then bought her brothers out. The bar was then sold in 1980 for $1 to Edna & Casper’s 2 sons & their wives – Frank & Susan LaMotta and Gary & Ellen LaMotta. The sons & their wives continued running the bar from the 80’s on. Gary LaMotta passed away in 1998, Ellen stayed actively running the bar. Frank LaMotta retired early 2000’s.

The landmark Krug’s Tavern timeline from 1932-present.

Krug’s Family Album

Click any picture to start the slideshow.

Considering most bars and restaurants last less than 10 years. Next time you take a visit to Krug’s Tavern there’s a good chance that there’s a LaMotta family member working the bar. When you keep a business in a family into it’s 4th and possibly it’s 5th, you are not just any business, you’re an institution. For example, the only other bar that is left down neck that is close in style to Krug’s is the Deep Inn which has been around only for about the last 25-30 years.

Krug’s Famous LaMotta – Boxing’s Former Middle Weight Champion Raging Bull

The Krug family welcomed the LaMotta family into the tavern business when Edna Krug, daughter of Frank and Laura Krug, married Casper LaMotta, son of Frank LaMotta. The bar is currently owned by Ellen LaMotta, her brother-in-law Frank and her sister-in-law Susan. Ellen LaMotta is the widow of Gary LaMotta, Casper and Edna LaMotta’s and their two sons and founder Frank Krug’s grandson. Casper and Jake were 2nd cousins through Casper’s father side. Jake LaMotta, the middleweight champion boxer of the ‘40s and ‘50s portrayed by Robert DeNiro in the 1980 movie “Raging Bull.”

Jake LaMotta (the Raging Bull) visited the bar a few times.  The first time I saw him here is when he was doing a card show at a hotel near the airport and he stopped in.

Ellen LaMotta – Jake passed on sept. 19,2017
Recognized as one of the greatest fighters (and fights) of all time. Jake LaMotta vs. Sugar Ray Robinson – February 14, 1951 in the fight nicknamed “the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. LaMotta may have lost, but he never gave up!
Raging Bull official trailer. Newark’s own Joe Pesci plays Jake’s brother Joey LaMotta in the 1980 classic.

Krug’s, Ironbound, & The Newark Riots

Anyone who grew up in Newark can never forget the summer of ’67 when the city experienced a series of events that would change Newark forever. On July 12, 1967, a taxi driver named John Smith was pulled over and arrested on 7th Avenue and 15th in the Central Ward. A crowd from the nearby Hayes Homes housing projects began gathering outside the 4th precinct where Smith was detained. Due to miscommunication, the crowd believed Smith had died in custody, although he had been transported to a hospital via a back entrance to the station. This sparked scuffles between African Americans and police in the Fourth Ward that escalated throughout western side of the city.

Subsequent to television news broadcasts on July 13 however, new and larger riots took place. In the end, twenty-six people were killed; 1,500 wounded; 1,600 arrested; and $10 million in property was destroyed. More than a thousand businesses were torched or looted, including 167 grocery establishments (most of which would never reopen). All streets running under the elevated train tracks along Route 21 were blocked off by the police preventing any movement of would-be looters eastward into the Ironbound neighborhood. Lootings and fires were mostly in the stores along Springfield Avenue and the Central Ward. Krug’s is in the East Ward, which was mostly spared from the extensive damages done in the nearby Central Ward business district. Ironically, John William Smith, the 40 year old Cab #45 driver got his cab from Ironbound’s Safety Cab Company and was actually living in the Ironbound section in a one bedroom apartment the day he was arrested on that hot summer night of July 12, 1967.

Krug’s Most Famous Event – 1980 Presidential Election

You would think back in 1980 that sending a Republican candidate for Vice President into Newark would be a disaster right? At the time, there were a bunch of local republican handlers that thought otherwise and on October 12, 1980, Regan’s VP choice George Herbert Walker Bush held a speech outside Krug’s in the parking lot. Over 300 locals joined in for the rally stop.

Calling New Jersey a real winnable state, Bush took his campaign to the working man yesterday in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood Returning to New Jersey after a three-day absence, Bush portrayed the GOP as the party, of neighborhood, family values church in an evening speech before hundreds who gathered in a parking lot behind Krug’s Tavern. Although local Republican candidates got almost no applause from the crowd, Bush s speech in praise of community spirit in the Ironbound roused the spectators. He criticized President Carter for trying to tear down the character of Republican presidential contender Ronald Reagan. “Governor Reagan doesn’t have a bigoted bone in his body,’ he told the applauding crowd.

Drukker News Service
Krugs Tavern, Newark NJ - Mr. Local History #mrlocalhistory
Regan VP candidate George HW Bush campaign stop in 1980 and visits Krug’s. Left to Right: Frank LaMotta (uncle – Ellen’s brother in law) Ellen LaMotta (mother) Christina LaMotta (baby) Gary LaMotta (dad-Ellen’s husband) and George HW Bush running for Vice President in 1980 – they did a campaign in the parking lot. Source: Joyce LaMotta

Casper LaMotta’s Lost Dog Tag Story

According to the1920 census, among Frank LaMotta’s family at 57 Houston Street was his 2 year old son Casper LaMotta. Ten years later, the boy was listed as “Casimir” in the 1930 census. By the time of the 1940 census Casper was not listed as a member of the household. Casper was born in 1918 and died in 1980. He served in WW2. What we do know is he got married to Edna Krug, and he went off and joined the Air Force to fight in WW2.

Then a piece of history showed up off the banks of the Thames River in London England. Roughly 70 years after Casper James LaMotta returned home from serving overseas during World War II, his dog tag was unearthed alongside the Thames River in London. Though it was rusted, a name and address for his next of kin — his father — was still clearly visible: Frank LaMotta, at 57 Houston Street in Newark.

Casper James LaMotta’s found dog tag was unearthed in London.
Casper James LaMotta’s lost dog tag was found with a metal detector just off the Thames riverbed in the Vauxhall section of London, UK. Casper was in the US Air Force.
Casper LaMotta’s lost WW2 dog tag found its way back to Casper’s son Frank Casper LaMotta in 2015.

“It’s amazing the crowdsourcing on this one. Seventy years later, within 12 hours, a dog tag pulled out of the Thames in London can be linked up with family members half a world away.”

Mike Radinsky, a living history interpreter at the B&O Railroad Museum in Maryland, said he started researching after seeing the post and found information on LaMotta, who died in 1980, but not his family.

On to the FOOD
Not Your Typical Bar Food

Over the years, Krug’s has served a variety of favorites from a pretty extensive menu. Honesty, everything on the menu is awesome, but it remains a simple choice for me; spicy shrimp to start off, and a burger with American, tomato and raw onion on the regular roll. Don’t get me wrong. I used to be an Italian hot dog guy as they make one of the best. The meatball parm is also top and so are the wings. As you can see, I’m getting outta hand here. The bottom line: you can’t go wrong with any of the food at Krug’s in my honest opinion.

The italian hotdog, spicy shrimp, and the Krug’s burger. I call it winning the “trifecta.”

Then something started to change at Krug’s. In 2010, bartender and flat top maestro Jimmy Piontek introduced Krug’s to Pete Geneovese, a Newark Star Ledger food writer and munchmobile food critic was invited to come down and check out what was being created in the small corner kitchen just off the back bar area. As they say, the rest is history.

Jimmy Piontek was key to the elevating Krug’s onto the national burger discussion. Had a few made by Jimmy over the years, but this burger can’t be for a human, but there is now a double burger phenomenon that’s being ordered. #insane.

The food started to become so popular that the back pool room was converted to a dining room back in 2012 as the floor getting a little flimsy. Gone went the pool table. Now a dining area with more tables, make sure you watch your step walking thru cause there’s a hidden bump in the floor.

Krug’s – New Jersey’s Best Burger

We’ve already covered the legendary burger at Krug’s in stories over the years, but the story of the history can’t be avoided. After winning the title of “New Jersey’s Best Burger” in 2011, it then won an extensive statewide contest in 2015 that might just have changed Krug’s Tavern forever. What was once just a shot and beer dive was thrust into the highly regarded burger restaurant business. Once a quiet local secret, Krug’s tavern went mainstream. After the award was presented on July 15, 2015, the once dive bar became a Newark dining destination. It has been listed as a TOP 10 Newark dining destination ever since.

Krug’s now goes through 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of ground beef every week. The 12 oz burger is the perfect mate for National Cheeseburger Day held annually on September 18th. Don’t wait that long – We’ll take it any day! It’s a 80/20 blend from meat wholesaler Ray’s Enterprises in Newark over on Astor Street in the Ironbound. It takes about 20 minutes to cook the 12-ounce patties (3/4 pounder) on the American Range flat top grill at the end of the bar.

I think the triple and quadruple burgers are what I’d call “Bigfoot Burgers” The pics are fuzzy just like the beast photos!
Can’t imagine anyone ever doing that to themselves.
Source: Brooks Betz, Mr. Local History Project

About 10 years ago people started asking for double burgers – then triples! I don’t know why anyone would want to eat that much beef.

Joyce LaMOTTA – fourth-generation co-owner of Krug’s.

2015 Dedication: Krug’s Tavern Way

In 2022, the neighborhood bar celebrates its 90th year. But it’s still a relative secret. One could argue it took its home city a while to recognize it as a landmark; in 2015, the city of Newark installed a street sign at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Napoleon Street that reads Krug’s Tavern Way. Finally, Krug’s Tavern got the recognition it deserves as a true Newark landmark.

Krug’s Tavern Way – Dedicated in 2015, Krug’s Tavern is now an official Newark landmark.

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Make sure you put Krug’s on your list. 90 years and going stronger than ever.
Few Mr. Local History friends gathering at Krug's Tavern as "Yen the DVD Lady" stops in to sell a few items. Once cds and DVDs, have become custom masks, hats, and whatever she can peddle.
Say hi to Yen the DVD, hat, flower street sales lady if she drops in!

Additional Information

Get the Bundle. If you can’t get to Krug’s for a burger, get a Krug’s keepsake along with NJ’s #1 Diner for the mantle or desk and show you allegiance to NJ’s Best Burger destination – Get The Jersey Foodie Collection – and save a few bucks.
Mr Local History Krugs Burger Album Banner
See the Krug’s 100 burger album to honor their anniversary. Click Here

The art rendering will be the front view of Krug’s, with the history on the back. Each collectible is approximately 4″ high by 6 inches long and 3/4″ wide screened artwork on wood. Each piece is handmade in the USA. The Mr. Local History Project sinks all proceeds into growing the program to offer more keepsakes as we’ve now grown the village to over 21 keepsakes. Each piece is handmade in the USA.

Final Goodbye – #806

We have some personal ties to Krug’s as well and we just wanted to say goodbye to a family member and friend that introduced us to Krug’s almost 30 years ago. RIP. We miss being with you there but feel you there in spirit!

Ken McShea -Newark PD #806 – We’ll never forget you. Thanks for all the Krug’s memories.
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1 thought on “Deep Dive: Krug’s Tavern – Preserving Newark’s History”

  1. Always a great place to go just to be happy I love there food Great establishment the food is good as always I host and hostess is amazing just a great place my mother got there married maybe 58 years ago there at her wedding wow how time has gone and Always Great Pl., Joyce Lotto Madrid is a great businesswoman always with a big heart and a smile as her mother and her father was a great man psalmist dress is the one that has the business going are great burgers are great grill skills she’s amazing woman congratulations Kirks tavern for 90 years in the business going strong

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