1 Colonial Ave. & Route 45, Woodbury, NJ 08096
Hours: Mon. – Sat.: 11 am – 2 am. Sun: 11:30 am – 12 am.
On an unseasonably warm Saturday night in December, an insatiable appetite for cold beer in dark places brought us to some of the deepest trenches of Gloucester County. First stop: Colonial Cafe in Woodbury, NJ.
The first thing that stands out about the Colonial Cafe is the location. CC is the first floor of a corner-lot house across from the train tracks, and it’s on a residential street. You don’t see places like this anymore – this is a true neighborhood watering hole, and they’ve got the regulars to prove it.
The front of the house at CC has three sections: an elevated dining room to the right, an island bar that seats 25 or 30 divers in the middle, and a liquor store/dining area on the left. Not just any old fashioned package goods fridge with some six packs and boxed wine – Colonial Cafe has a full-blown off-licensed liquor store with high-top seating. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to acquire a license for such a set up anymore, but what a great feature!
We took a seat at the only set of three open seats at the bar, which was right behind some really cool old-style taps that took up about 90% of our counter space. While some of the CC is frozen in time, they also have some newer local breweries on tap, and according to their Facebook, they were shocked to get a keg of Mad Elf this year. Keeping it in the dive spirit though, we ordered a round of Yuenglings from our bartender, Joe, and man were they good. They came in faded Eagles pint glasses, but the ancient refrigeration system at CC is clearly still in great condition, because the beer was cold and perfectly carbonated. From your barstool you’ll notice plenty more classic divery – drink tokens stacked up next to the cash drawer, the food menu posted up on an ancient letter board, three mounted deer heads with Santa hats, and an “Internet Jukebox”, which no doubt still has an active dial-up connection. And best of all? The Colt 45 shrine in the back corner. Be sure to pay homage when you are at CC.
When a couple across the bar paid their tab, a regular suggested we take their stools so that we would have room to eat (he saw up eyeing the specials moments before). We took his advice and another customer handed us a pair of menus at the new seats. We ordered food, and Joe, master of his trade, quickly refilled out beers. From this side of the bar, we got a great view of the Carol Burnett Show infomercials showing on all the TVs. This was during the Army-Navy game, mind you, and the bar does have cable, but everyone seemed to love the nostalgia of it. Of course there were multiple comments on the sacrilege idea of putting Carol Burnett on a DVD as opposed to a VHS, but one guy did get quite the kick out of being able to look up the cast on his iPhone.
The CC staff and patrons were some of the friendliest regulars we’ve come across, and they were certainly happy to have some younger divers in their company. While waiting for the food, we learned that they don’t take any shit either. A group of drunk dads, appearing to be celebrating some sort of youth sports championship, stumbled in, and were quickly rejected. I guess they thought it was a joke, because Coach pulled out some cash and sat down. Shut down again. Dejected, they left and presumably finished their half-full Yuengling cans (which they brought into the bar!) while having a catch by the train tracks.
Eventually the food came, and it didn’t disappoint. The wings, chili, and roast beef sandwich (they were all out of roast pork) came in decent portion sizes at great prices. The flavor of the buffalo sauce was spot on, and I scarfed down the roast beef in no time. That food, plus a basket of fries and 2 beers each totaled only $36 with tax and tip! And now that we know the kitchen puts out decent food, we can go for the house specialty next time: bourbon glazed meatloaf (according to the menu, “gotta try this”).
Before venturing out to another dive, we paid our tab (cash only, ATM on site right next to the fire hydrant), I couldn’t help but ask about these weird hot dogs floating in a viscous red liquid next to the register. I couldn’t stop looking at them. Did people actually eat those things? Or were they art at this point? Joe told me that “they sit in that liquid for years,” and then the regulars perked up to egg me on into eating one. Shockingly, I did it. One pickled hot dog on the house. In fact, in the name of dive research, we all took a bite. And it was fucking horrible. It tasted like a wet ream of paper, and that flavor REALLY stays with you. I am thoroughly convinced that we ate the oldest pickled hot dog on planet earth. But if there is anything to take away from this tragedy, it’s that I will NEVER forget the Colonial Cafe.
Colonial Cafe is frozen in time. It’s a classic SJ dive with good food at great prices. The locals and staff are welcoming, and the wall art is some of the best we’ve seen. And just like the Hud, there is no door on the men’s room stall. When you’re in the neighborhood, stop in for a drink, and grab a bottle of Jack to go!
Daily lunch special: any sandwich and fries, $6.95
Free Dum-Dums at all times
Soup of the day posted to Facebook daily