They say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Well, when you are about to walk into a bar and read a sign near the door saying, “Pledge allegiance or get the hell out!”, I think your mind would begin to form certain images. I was expecting to see a raucous crowd of old, white men wearing MAGA hats. Surely everyone would turn around and look at us newbies as we entered. As a stranger in a strange land, I thought perhaps there was another nearby establishment to visit instead. But Justin forged ahead and I and his sister followed suit. We had just spent some time visiting his family and wanted to grab a quick drink and some food.
Unknown to us, Kelly’s does not serve food—at least not the night we were there. Images online show that there are some days when food is available, however. Perhaps they get it catered because I did not notice room for a working kitchen. Anyway, that didn’t matter so much. A drink it would be.
We grabbed three seats at a counter facing the wall, with the bar behind us. Next to me was a beat-up, old dart board. Justin had a Budweiser, his sister a vodka and cranberry juice, and I with a Jack Daniel’s on the rocks. While sitting there for a minute or two waiting for the drink, I began to take in my surroundings. Perhaps I was wrong in my initial judgment? There were two couples, a group of friends, and a few people flying solo. All walks of life. They looked the kind of comfortable you can only get by being a regular. It was a Friday night at around 7:30 PM. Could it be that this was just another dive bar that Justin and I would become endeared to? You know my thing for dives, or even what you would call an “Old Man Bar”. I go to a place to be left alone and hang out, not to be part of a scene. To the guy sitting alone at the bar hammering shot after shot of vodka while also nursing something else on the rocks, I salute you!
The bartender ended up being younger than I expected and very pleasant. Drinks were well-priced. Justin’s beer was $3 and I don’t know what the other two cost but it wasn’t bad. As the night progressed and another round was ordered, Justin put a dollar in the computerized “jukebox” and played a Fleetwood Mac song. After only a few notes, a man stood up, pounded his fist into the bar, and screamed, “Shit!”. As we put down our drinks and readied for a brawl, the man got emotional and started going on and on about how he was just talking about the song with someone and how it was one of his favorites. Bar fight and trip to jail via Carteret’s finest avoided. For all we know, he bought Justin’s next beer. The music was so loud when he got another one and the bartender said something he couldn’t hear. Regardless, that next beer was free of charge.
It is hard to give a place like Kelly’s a score based on a few drinks and no food available, but this was a cool little hangout. The feel is divey, signs on the wall implied a no bullshit atmosphere, the bartender was laid back, and everyone kept to themselves aside from the musical trip down memory lane. That, and I am still pretty good at darts. I am going to give Kelly’s a 3 out of 5 stars for now. I would love to come back. Hey Justin, when are we visiting your family again?
Kelly’s Pub is located at 247 Washington Avenue in Carteret, NJ. Anyone planning on visiting needs to know that this is a cash bar only.