One of my mom’s uncles, Tony Scheri, used to own the Pine Tree Tavern, which was located on Route 35 in Eatontown right next to the empty Pearle Vision Center store. Not only did he serve liquor and sell packaged goods there, but he also owned the huge tract of land surrounding the property that was one of several trailer parks that dotted Route 35 back in the day.
My uncle and his wife Aunt Marge lived in one of the mobile homes just adjacent to the bar. Every time the family went over and visited them, my younger brother Joe and I would eventually meander over to the bar and hang with the patrons. We had been over there so many times, they all knew us by name.
“Hey, it’s Tony’s nephews!” they’d all chime in – a pre-cursor to the “Norm!” chant on “Cheers”.
One of the main attractions of the place was the huge regulation shuffleboard table next to the bar. My brother Joe and I would monopolize the table, sometimes for hours on end. Every once in a while we’d break so that the paying customers could play a game or two.
My uncle ran the Pine Tree and made a lot of money over the years. My grandfather, Uncle Tony’s younger brother, did so well as a bartender there that he retired early from his union electrician’s job and worked full-time at the Pine Tree.
Around 1978, Uncle Tony and Aunt Marge moved out of their mobile home and settled in a ranch-style home in Eatontown right down the road from the Old Orchard Country Club. It was around this time that my uncle was fiddling with the idea of selling the place and retiring. He wasn’t quite sure what to do until he got “the sign from above”.
One day as he and my grandfather were doing inventory before the bar even opened, two men entered the place and robbed them at gunpoint. After they raided the cash registers, they locked up my uncle and grandfather in the freezer where all the packaged goods were stored. Luckily for them, Aunt Marge just happened to enter the bar a few minutes later and found them, cold but unharmed.
That pushed him over the edge. A few months later, my uncle sold the bar and the trailer park property lock stock and barrel to local developer Joe Scialfa (Patti Scialfa’s father and Bruce Springsteen’s father-in-law), who promptly remodeled the place and took it to new heights. A number of years later, Joe sold the property where the tavern was to another developer who knocked the Pine Tree down and built an Olive Garden Restaurant, which still stands to this very day.
Every once in a blue moon, I’ll drive into the trailer park and find the street sign that bears my mother’s family name – Scheri Lane. It’s one of about two or three trailer parks left in Eatontown situated along Route 35.
The patrons that my brother and I used to hang with are probably all gone now, as are my aunt and uncle. Time advances, things change, but the happy memories of life at the Pine Tree live on in the corners of my mind.
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri’s blog on his Facebook page, “Jersey Shore Retro” as well as on Twitter at @jsretro).