Obal’s Inn: Bloomfield’s neighborhood bar that opens early, closes late
On a weekday at 7 a.m. in Bloomfield, residents shuffle down bustling streets to buses and trains.
Bagel shops, Quick Chek and Dunkin’ Donuts are packed with people trying to grab a bite and a coffee to start the day. The smell of Gencarelli’s Bakery’s pastries fills the morning air as people wait on Broad Street to get to work.
Open signs are flipped from closed for the cockcrow commuters while one neon sign is switched on that reads “Miller Lite.”
PHOTOS: A peek inside Obal’s Inn
For more than 30 years, Robin Janes has unlocked the doors to Obal’s Inn in downtown Bloomfield to pour beers for construction and medical workers who work overnight shifts as well as local retirees.
“It’s just always been for 30-some odd years that we open at 7 in the morning,” Janes said. “I can get a lot of paperwork done, bring in deliveries and chitchat. If anyone wants to come in for a drink, I’m here … so it works out.”
As hundreds of millions of dollars are being funneled into the downtown redevelopment, Obal’s sits in a stark contrast to the soon-to-open chains near the train station, including a Tilted Kilt.
Located near the end of Bloomfield’s walkable downtown strip of restaurants, bars and shops, the blue-collar watering hole hasn’t changed much since Janes bought the town pub with her husband in 1982.
“It’s just a old neighborhood pub,” Janes said, who opens the bar early Monday through Saturday. Obal’s opens at noon on Sunday due to local ordinances. It closes nightly at 2 a.m.
There’s a “19th Hole” sign for those who finished a round at Glen Ridge Country Club. There’s an array of posters and decorations that have been up for decades on the wood-paneled walls.
There are still a few old tube TVs nestled in the corners of the pub with some newer flat-screens mounted behind the bar. There are dozens of old photos pinned up on the wall that all have a story.
Small signs printed in simple text on white copy-paper tell guests the new beers on tap and if the bar’s 50-cent pickled eggs are ready.
And that’s why the regulars keep coming back.
“I prefer pubs like Obal’s over a huge chain like the Tilted Kilt because personally I’m not a fan of the loud crazy atmosphere that places like (that) have,” said Daniel Miller, 28, who lives in the bordering town of Belleville. “I’d much rather have a beer in a nice pub and play a game of pool.”
Since Janes’ husband passed away 10 years ago, her two sons Keith and Kenny have stepped up and pitched in at the family business.
“They are just great bosses,” the weekend bartender Megan said. “They are people I always invite over to my house for barbecues, even as your boss.”
Keith works in the kitchen, where on Friday and Saturday nights Janes said the culinary school graduate really kicks it up. Kenny helps out behind the bar on weekends.
Weekend specialties are hand-written in bright colors where in most pubs the available beers would be listed. Keith plans out an eclectic menu ranging from high-end duck dishes to fish tacos to buffalo tater tots.
“They sure make a good burger,” Michael Rossi, 75, who’s lived in town for 30 years.
The bar is also a known for its barbecue ribs that it only serves on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The family was tight-lipped on the rib recipe, which Janes said her and her husband perfected after touring many BBQ joints.
“And those ribs are sure great too,” Rossi said.
“We just liked ribs,” Janes said. “We just tried all different places and recipes and hit upon this thing.”
But Janes said it’s her patrons that make her proud of the bar she bought, which has been a blue-collar staple in Bloomfield since the early 1960s. It was previously known as just Obal’s; Janes added the Inn to the name.
“I have to say, I’m very proud of this bar because we get the same people,” she said. “This is a no-nonsense place. If none of the family members are here, the bar, the customers that come in here, it’s like they’re all kind of family. I’m very proud of who comes in here. It’s their house, just don’t mess it.”