Three generations of the Urbano family run Freddie’s Tavern.
The tavern opened in 1933, when Ferdinand Urbano Sr. and his wife Janie served beer and spaghetti to Urbano’s fellow Reading Railroad workers while he cut their hair. Back then, the workers could have a beer and a bag of pretzels for five cents.
Freddie Urbano Jr., the tavern’s current owner, and the founders’ youngest son, remembers those days. The 76-year-old was born a year after his parents started serving beer to the railroad workers.
He was put to work at a young age, doing the unpalatable work of cleaning out the spittoons at the tavern. In those days, the land surrounding the tavern was a farm, with livestock, a rose garden, a corn field and a vegetable garden, and which Urbano used to have to water.
When he was 10, Urbano would stay up past his bedtime, hide behind a wooden stove and listen to the workers play the banjo. The tavern still has that familiarity.
“We know everybody that comes in the door,” said Michael Nutt, Urbano’s son-in-law.
Nutt, along with Urbano’s son Freddie III, is the third generation in the family to work at the restaurant. Nutt’s son, Ryan, also works at the tavern, making tomato pies. But it’s not just the management that’s multigenerational. Nutt said many of the customers have parents or grandparents who frequented Freddie’s Tavern over its 77-year history.
The business really started to grow after Urbano’s older brother Nick returned from World War II. He took on the task of remodeling the bar area, launching a series of renovations that made the tavern what it is today, complete with a banquet hall, and more recently, a pizza kitchen.
The tavern is a self-sufficient compound now, with its own generator and a complement of two rigs with snow plows, meaning that aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas, the bar never closes.
“Everybody knows if it’s snowing or if there’s a power outage, they go to Freddie’s,” Nutt said.
On those days, customers might come for the warmth and electricity, but they stay for the Italian-American cuisine, like the prime rib, for which the restaurant is well known. The meat is slow-cooked au jus.
“It melts in your mouth,” Nutt said. “It’s just incredible.”
Nutt’s contribution to the menu is the tomato pie, which he started out making at home, before he suggested to Urbano that they could probably sell it. The pizza takes its place in the menu along with chicken marsala, fresh seafood dishes and a multitude of specials.
Freddie’s also offers offsite catering, and has catered events at the West Trenton Ballroom for up to 400 people. The banquet hall can accommodate up to 125 people, and the Italian-American Club of West Trenton and the Trenton Rotary hold meetings there. The tavern also caters funerals.
But if customers sit down to eat at Freddie’s Tavern, Urbano will probably be there. He still works seven days a week.
“He’s 76 years old, he works 76 hours a week,” Nutt said.
Urbano’s sisters, Irma, 81 and Theresa, 84, still work at the tavern, as well. Urbano shrugs it off.
“Got to keep our blood circulating,” he said.
Freddie’s Tavern is located at up the street from the West Trenton SEPTA station, 12 Railroad Ave., off Sullivan Way or via Decou Avenue via Parkway Avenue. For more information, call (609) 882-9845.