You don’t see many octogenarian bartenders, but Johanna Wall was not your average bartender.
For nearly half a century, Wall, who passed away Sunday at the age of 86, was one of Hoboken’s best and certainly most-loved bartenders and business owners, always willing to serve up a drink or weave a story at her beloved Shannon Lounge.
Born Johanna O’Sullivan in Limerick, Ireland on August 16, 1917, she married Michael Wall (who passed away 17 years ago), and, in 1953, along with their 1-year-old daughter, the couple moved to Hoboken and purchased the vacant bar across from City Hall. Today the Shannon Lounge is one of Hoboken’s oldest establishments. Wall always had a great love for Hoboken, her adopted home.
“I haven’t been back to Ireland in 17 years and I don’t plan on going back,” said Wall in a 2001 interview with the Hudson Current. “I want to be buried here…where I made my fortune.”
According to those the frequented her bar, Wall was known for her overall kindness and generosity, along with her stern intolerance for any funny business. She ran a strict establishment in a sometimes harsh industry. Any sort of unsavory behavior was immediately squashed with a heavy hand.
Despite her age and somewhat diminutive physical presence, by all accounts, Wall knew how to use her voice and fix her gaze, proving to be a most intimidating autocrat when the need arose. But as Tara Whelan, one of her six grandchildren, explains, one was never far away from getting back on her good side.
“All you had to do was bring her some ice cream and apple pie, and you could do no wrong,” said Whelan.
Admired by the Irish
The Shannon is a renowned pub in the Irish community, and Wall 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, she 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, Wall 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,” she was often seen in the lounge or sitting outside, keeping an eye on things.
“She liked to sit out front and keep watch over the whole block,” said Whelan.
Surviving Wall are her 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, N.J. For more information, contact Failla Memorial Home, 533 Willow Ave. in Hoboken, (201) 659-0082.
To read the column on Wall that was written by Hudson Current columnist (and local bartender) Chris Halleron last week, click on www.hudsoncurrent.com.