Former bank solid investment for Tucker’s

Source: Lauren Suit, shorenewstoday.com

Thursday, 18th Aug, 2011

Tucker’s Pub at 3301 Atlantic Ave. in Wildwood wasn’t always the place to go for a Smithwick’s or Guinness on tap, like it is now.

The property started as a bank in 1913 and continued to operate as one until 1993. A food court venture followed, and when that folded, an ice cream parlor took its place, and a Chinese restaurant.

Now the only remnant of its past is a huge wall-sized vault that sits open behind the bar, filled with cases of valuable spirits.

Owners Marge and Bob Villone poured a lot of time and money into the property to transform the building into an upscale Irish pub.

The bar is outfitted with dark wood and high ceilings framed by flags from Ireland and the United States. A stained glass light fixture takes up most of the ceiling, a stage for live music stands in the corner, and the shiny taps for Harp, Guinness and Smithwick’s stand ready to be pulled behind the bar.

Bob Villone said he and his wife moved to the area from Philadelphia in 1997 and worked for more than four years at the C-View Inn in Cape May.

“It was our crash course in the bar business,” he said.

The couple had an opportunity to invest in the Wildwood property 10 years ago, at a time when the city was going through some difficult times, they said.

“The town was very receptive to a new business like this coming in,” Villone said.

Villone’s last name sometimes raises a few eyebrows: an Irish Pub with an Italian owner.

“Good thing the boss is Irish,” Villone said with a laugh, referring to his wife. Their daughter Tatiana recently returned from a trip to Ireland for her honeymoon.

Italian heritage aside, from the whiskey to the corned beef special on the menu, Villone said the pub has embraced the Irish philosophy of “Sit long, talk much and laugh often.”

Villone joked that he hired a number of Irish students during the summer to make up for his Italian influences.

Tom Fallis, known by his friends as “Irish Tom,” had worked nearby at the Thunderbird, and after Villone hired him as a bartender, he became something of a godfather to the younger Irish staff.

“When he would travel to Ireland he’d bring care packages from their family to the kids. And he’d help them get accustomed to working in the area,” he said. “They just loved him.”

Villone said that Fallis was also a favorite of his customers.

“Everyone knew him,” Villone said.

When Fallis died in January 2007, Villone dedicated the patio bar in his honor. He said they make a toast to Fallis every year.

In the 10 years that Villone has operated the pub, there have been a number of favorite customers, he said, but one family from Connecticut has been coming every year.

“The same week in August, the whole family vacations here,” Villone said. “And almost every day, they eat dinner here or all the adults come for a drink.”

Because the bar is surrounded by the boardwalk and a number of motels and hotels, Villone said that a number of his customers are on vacation. However, locals always find a reason to keep coming back, whether it is for the food or the live music, which ranges from country on Tuesday nights to Irish music on Saturdays.

And of course, there are the drinks. Favorites like Guinness and shots of Tullamore Dew are poured regularly. However, Villone suggested that Irish whiskey fans try a sip of Powers Irish Whiskey the next time they stop by.

“It’s very smooth,” he said.

And for folks not quite up to a straight shot of whiskey, the Irish Monkey may be more to their tastes. Villone said the recipe blends banana liqueur, Baileys Irish Cream, Jameson and creme de menthe.

The owner said that while he enjoys pouring drinks, booking live music and making sure his menu is done right, he looks forward to retirement.

“A chance to get in an RV and see the sights with the wife,” he said.

But while Villone’s retirement plans may lead him to the open road, many of his contemporaries are finding themselves back behind the bar.

Jim DiIulio, who has recently started working at Tucker’s as a bartender, grew up in the same Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood as Villone.

“We’ve been friends since we’ve been 8 years old,” Villone said.

This county loves to have a good time, especially when fancy microbrews, dirty martinis or a shot of Jack are involved. Follow Freetime reporter Lauren Suit each week as she hops the local bars to drink in Cape May County’s social scene and connect with the people who shake it and serve it.

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