Time Travel to Joyce’s Café

Time Travel to Joyce’s Café

                                                            J.R. Zane

When I drive back into Pottsville from Route 61 heading west in my old Ford Pinto Wagon, it is not unusual to move slowly on East Norwegian Street as I approach Centre Street.  When I am next to the Brass Tap Tavern at the corner with Logan Alley I often do some heavy time-traveling through the twentieth century, especially if I have my Doors cassette playing  Yes, I am not limited to just the Chambers Brothers to do my time-traveling as it works with some other tunes, In this case it was listening to “Break On Through (to the other side).”  I don’t know why certain songs work and others don’t.  Do you?

When I look at what appears to everyone else as The Brass Tap, I see its multiple past incarnations.  Once or twice I went back to the early 1900’s and saw Patrick J. Joyce’s Café, sometimes called Pat’s Corner Café.  I watched Pat Joyce stepping outside his establishment and home (he lived upstairs with his family).  Joyce was not the first person to maintain a tavern at that location.  His predecessors were Joseph Klitsch and Daniel Coleman, but my Pinto Wagon had trouble taking me back that far.  I would need a higher octane and the right cassette song.  One time, when Pat Joyce had the door open to his barroom, I saw a large wooden horse inside.  Later that wooden horse would be in the window of Knapp’s Leather Goods Store on S. Centre Street.  That horse was a landmark in both places.  Perhaps you remember it?

Mr. Joyce grew up in Mount Laffee and, in adulthood, moved to Pottsville to be the barkeep at prestigious Hotel Allan.  After a while he opened his own café and his tavern became the center of social and political life in the city.  For a while Joyce employed a popular boxer, Matthew Carroll, who fought under the name of Frank Strauss as bartender.  It was a great idea to have a prize fighter as a bartender.  His establishment was referred to as “Mecca” for politicians to plan their numerous campaigns for city and county elections.  Mr. Joyce was a very popular Pottsvillian.  His death in 1922 made front page news. His widow, the former Mary Jane Devitt of Shenandoah, continued the business but it was difficult to for anyone to run a tavern during the 1920s as alcoholic beverages were illegal throughout the nation and even tougher for a woman in those days.  While Mrs. Joyce retained title to the real estate, the business ownership changed hands after Mr. Joyce’s death.  Andrew Phillips and then Max Rizzardi became owners.  Often in my time travels I watched prohibition agents snooping around the premises and the other restaurants in the area; on the look-out for beer barrels or whiskey bottles.  Once I travelled to January 1932 and witnessed a raid by federal agents which attracted a crowd of more than 200 curious onlookers.

After the end of Prohibition in 1933, ownership changed hands once again and the premises adopted a new name – “The Ginther Grill” and the pub was completely remodeled and upgraded by its new owner, William A. Ginther and his silent partner, George Morrison (the latter being no relation to Jim Morrison who is singing Soul Kitchen on my audio cassette).  The Café specialized in seafood with cold Schlitz beer on tap.  On the same block were other eating and drinking establishments to compete for the large influx of customers that came to the city for shopping, dining and socializing on weekends.  Pottsville was a hot spot in those days.  On that small block some of the tastiest seafood in the nation could be found.  In the late 1940s Ginther sold the premises to Ralph K. Blankenbiller of Reading and it was called “Blanky’s” but his ownership was short-lived.  While alcohol was legal once again in the 30’s and 40’s, the government agents now focused their sights on illegal slot machines and gambling paraphernalia in that section of the city.

Often time travelling took me back to the late 1950s and early 1960s; that is when J. Lalor Joyce had ownership of the business under the name of “Joyce’s Café.”  George Morrison still retained an interest in the real estate and the business along with Joyce.  The restaurant’s reputation for fine seafood grew and the premises retained a cosmopolitan feel.  I remember sitting in booth and pressing a wall button for service and watching the steamed clams and crab cakes being lowered in the dumbwaiter.  Lalor Joyce, before taking over, had been the manager of the Hippodrome Theatre not far from the café.  While Mr. Joyce owned the premises until 1990, the business passed through different hands, with Joe Talpash of St. Clair, being the last owner of the famed seafood restaurant, I believe.  Lalor Joyce sold the premises to Matt Direnzo in 1990 when it opened as The Brass Tap attracting a youthful clientele for many years, followed by “The Wooden Keg.”   The historic premises is now up for sale.

(Photo courtesy of Zillow)