CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY

KELLY'S CAFE
69 State Street

69 State Street was a bar as early as 1910, when Conrad Ahrens was the proprietor. William Pfeiffer was the proprietor by 1918 through the early 1940s. Frederick Weldon ran the place after World War II.  From the mid 1950s through the early 1970s, 69 State Street was the home of Kelly's Cafe. The John Kelly family had lived next door at 55 State Street for many years before son Cornelius J. "Babe" Kelly acquired the bar.

The Kelly family is similar to many other Camden families in that a number of the children left there mark in the annals of Camden History. Besides Babe Kelly's owning the bar, there was brother Leo Kelly, who was killed in action while serving with the United States Navy during World War II, and brother, William E. Kelly, who was a Camden police officer before the war and had a long and distinguished career in local law enforcement after returning home. A sister, Jane Kelly, was directress of nursing at West Jersey Hospital and three satellite hospitals.

Cornelius J. "Babe" Kelly, who owned the bar, was shot and killed when the bar was robbed on October 25, 1972. The case remains unsolved to this day. Kelly's Cafe was closed by 1977, and the building no longer stands.

The North Camden Kellys

In the spring of 2009, William E. Kelly Jr. made available many interesting pictures of Kelly's Cafe and the Kelly family, as well as writing a good deal about the bar and Camden. The author of several books and be sure to visit Bill Kelly's website where he blogs about many interesting subjects!

Kelly's Cafe - Camden, N.J.
by William E. Kelly Jr.

When I was a kid in the 1950s and 60s, Kelly's Cafe, at the end of State Street in North Camden, New Jersey, was the one place where I always enjoyed going. At the end of State Street in North Camden, just under the Ben Franklin Bridge to Philadelphia, Kelly's Cafe was the center of the universe, at least for awhile. Our family and friends would come together for birthdays, holidays, weddings and funerals. My father's brothers, my uncles owned it, and Uncle Babe and Aunt Ethel lived upstairs with their kids, Jerry and Maryjane, my favorite cousins.

As a kid, not yet a teenager, you're a fly on the wall whose dragged around with grownups temporarily dedicated to you for a few hours at a time, some enthusiastic and some reluctant, but always accommodating.

My father was a Camden policeman and my mother worked as a secretary at RCA and later at the North Camden grammar school, Pyne Point.

So Kelly's Cafe was right there, under the Ben Franklin Bridge, sandwiched among Bolletino's junk yard and a row of brick houses, one of which was where my father lived with his brothers and sisters, Jane, Jerry, Leo, Julie and Babe, each of whom would make their mark in the community.

Uncle Babe ran Kelly's Cafe, a family affair that also included Aunt Ethel behind the bar on occasion and cooking the roasts that would be carved for hungry steelworkers from shipyard, the primary clientele.

While Aunt Ethel worked the bar, there was a large green shamrock sign that read: Ladies Not Served At Bar, and there was a big backroom, at least it was big for a kid who was sometimes left there to play the out of tune piano, pool table and huge collection of bottle caps that were over valued by me at the time, as were my cousin Jerry's comic collection that took up shelves that lined an entire wall.

The window from Jerry's totally cool room overlooked Bolletino's junk yard and the Ben Franklin Bridge, which always has a flow of cars, trucks and trains going along, bringing the skyline to life, as if you were in a giant Christmas train set.

The backroom of Kelly's Cafe was up a flight of stairs from the bar, and included the aforementioned standup piano, wood table with formica tops and round back wooden cabaret chairs. There was also a hole in the floor, a door that you could pull up and walk down the stairs to the cellar where kegs of beer and bottles of booze were stored.

Towards the back of the dining room was a door that led to the kitchen, a door that led outback, and stairs that went to the second floor where Uncle Babe, Aunt Ethel and cousins Jerry and Maryjane lived.

The bar had two front doors, one on each corner. When you entered the door to the right the horse shoe bar was on your left, with an American darts board against the far war in front of the other door, and a shuffle board that ran down the far west wall. Then there was the men's room behind that, which I remember as one huge, wrap around urinal where a dozen guys could fit at once, and probably did when the shipyard got out.

There were photographs along the wall above the shuffle board, pictures of the boats that were built at New York Shipbuilding Company over the course of decades - including the Kitty Hawk carrier and first and only nuclear powered merchant vessel.

69 State Street
mid 1950s - Late 1970s
Kelly's Cafe

Photo courtesy of Todd Toner. That's his uncle Arthur "Hunky" Knox and his boat in the foreground. 

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe
as seen from 2nd & Main Street 1977

Photo courtesy of Floyd Miller. That's his wife and children in the foreground. 

 Click on Images to Enlarge

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Click on Images to Enlarge

Photos courtesy of Bill Kelly Jr. and his cousin Jerry Kelly, whose father owned the bar and who grew up living over it. 

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Click on Images to Enlarge

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Click on Images to Enlarge

Photo taken from across the street, opposite Kelly's Cafe. The rowhomes in the background are 49, 51, 53, and 55 State Street. The Kelly family resided at 55 State Street for many years before Babe Kelly acquired the bar

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

At the Bar by the Door

Click on Images to Enlarge

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

The Band In The Back Room

Click on Images to Enlarge

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Dart League Champions

Click on Images to Enlarge

 

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Doors to the Back Room

Click on Images to Enlarge

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Draft Beer
at the
Shuffleboard

Click on Images to Enlarge

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Draft Beer
at the
Shuffleboard

Click on Images to Enlarge

 

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Keeping Tabs

Click on Images to Enlarge

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

Shades are Up!

Click on Images to Enlarge

69 State Street
Kelly's Cafe

The Crowd
at the End of the Bar

Click on Images to Enlarge

John & Esther Wolf
at
Kelly's

1950s

Photo courtesy of John Myers

   

Drink Up!
The Bars, Taverns, and Clubs of Camden

RETURN TO DVRBS.COM HOME PAGE