In 1932, two pals by the name of Marty Horn and Roy Sale opened a small hot dog stand on the corner of Prospect and Eagle Rock Avenues in West Orange, N.J. Over the years Pals Cabin grew and grew, becoming renowned as a local institution and hitting its heyday in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. The restaurant, with its masculine menu of burgers, steaks, and homemade soup, was a local legend, which made the news even more shocking when it emerged earlier this year: it would be closing, and the building would be torn down and replaced by a CVS pharmacy. Last weekend the ax finally fell, and the restaurant’s last night of service was May 30.
With its wood-paneled walls, private dining rooms, tap room, lunch counter, and two separate dining rooms (one was more formal), the two-story Pals was an official New Jersey institution. Babe Ruth was a regular, as was Yogi Berra, and a young piano player who went by the name of Liberace got his start there at the age of 18, playing in the bar for $40 a week; his piano was still there. The Sopranos also filmed inside the restaurant a couple of times.
According to NJ.com, the main reason for the closure was mounting expenses: utilities cost $20,000 per month and property taxes on the massive plot of land were approaching $200,000 per year. Business was also down in recent years, and the unchanging menu and décor were charming to some but off-putting to others (the restaurant was certainly stuck in time, for better or worse; on a recent visit the manager made us remove our hats). Business in the tap room also dwindled substantially, as more attention was paid to the perils of drinking and driving in recent years.
While the wrecking ball should be arriving sometime this summer, the current owners (it’s still in the Horn family) plan to explore opening Pals Cabin burger joints, on par with Five Guys, in the area. It’ll be nothing like the experience of dining in this big old institution, but at least the name will live on.