Hal Wastes His Wages

I’ve been a bartender for almost six years now, and I think I’ve seen a lot. But I’ve got nothing next to Johanna Wall. Sadly, “Joanie,” as she was known to most in Hoboken, died on Sunday at the age of 86.

Joanie had owned and operated the Shannon Lounge (106 First St.) since 1953, making it one of Hoboken’s oldest running establishments. Her overall kindness and generosity, along with her stern intolerance for any funny business in the bar were legendary throughout Hoboken, a town she loved and supported throughout her many years here.

Originally from Newcastle West in Co. Limerick, Ireland, Joanie immigrated to the States in 1952 and immediately found a home in Hoboken.

“She once told me that New York City is the dirtiest city she’s ever been in,” explains Tara Whelan, one of Joanie’s six grandchildren. “I think she only went back there once to buy some shoes.” In a recent interview with the Current, Joanie explained, “I haven’t been back to
Ireland in 17 years and I don’t plan on going back-I want to be buried here… where I made my fortune.”

While she may have gotten rich from Hoboken, Hoboken was certainly much richer for having Joanie.

The Shannon is a renowned pub in the Irish community and Joanie had been known to help out recent Irish immigrants in finding jobs as they struggled to get on their feet. She routinely let unions, police departments, fire departments and other organizations use the back hall of the Shannon for meetings. If anyone wanted to hold a fundraiser-whether it was for a hospital, charity or an individual who had gotten hurt on the job or lost their home in a fire-the Shannon was open to them. Additionally, Joanie was one of the founders of the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade (to be held this year on March 6) and served as grand marshal for the event’s inaugural in 1987.

But first and foremost, Joanie was a bartender. She worked the Shannon with an unparalleled persistence and dedication until April of 2003, when she finally hung up the bar apron. Yet even in her “retirement,” you could always find her in there or posted outside, keeping an eye on things. “She liked to sit out front and keep watch over the whole block,” Whelan explains.

And Joanie watched with an eagle eye. She ran a strict business in what can be a harsh and difficult industry. Any sort of unsavory behavior was immediately squashed with a heavy hand. Despite her age and somewhat diminutive physical presence, Joanie knew how to use her voice and fix her gaze, proving to be a most intimidating autocrat when need arose. Anything from drunkenness to belligerence to foul language would bring forth the wrath of Joanie, which essentially meant be good or be gone. But getting back on her good side was fairly simple, as Whelan explains, “All you had to do was bring her some ice cream and apple pie, and you could do no wrong.”

The fact that Joanie worked the bar for so long is a testament, not only to her physical strength but overall moral fiber. It takes a certain kind of person to be a good bartender, but it takes the patience of a saint to do it for that long. You really have to love your job and love people to go day-in-day-out dealing with the grind of bartending for so many years. You can’t help but admire Joanie for her endurance and strength of character.

Johanna Wall passed away Sunday, Jan. 25, at the age of 86.

Surviving are son Michael, daughters Nancy Guerin and Marie Wall, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. The family has asked that donations be made to the Hunterdon Developmental Center in Clinton, NJ. For more information, contact Failla Memorial Home, 533 Willow Ave. in Hoboken, (201) 659-0082.

To reach Hal, please write to:

“Hal Wastes His Wages”

c/o Current

1400 Washington St.

Hoboken, NJ 07030

or email c_halleron@yahoo.com


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