Raucous Secaucus

All-ages street party celebrates St. Patrick’s Day and Charlie’s Corner 50th anniversary

It was a day of many colors in Secaucus, with St. Patrick well represented in green while Sesame Street’s Elmo brought out the red.
The first Secaucus St. Patrick’s Day Celebration featured live music, food trucks, a beer garden, Irish dancers, and more. Held on Friday and Saturday, March 11 and 12, at the corner of Paterson Plank Road and Wilson Avenue, the event also marked the 50th anniversary of Charlie’s Corner, the neighborhood bar and local institution.
Charlie’s Corner sponsored the beer garden, housed under a huge 150-foot tent. Appearing onstage inside the tent were a wide array of musical groups, including high-energy Irish band Daddy O Pocketful, along with Deaf Rhino, Benjamins, Naked Twisted, Sami Eldebs, Mike Buscio, DJ Sir Williams, Strive, and Under Pressure.
Kids were more likely to get their groove on alongside Elmo and friends, out in the family fun area, busting moves to “Gangnam Style” and other popular hits. Other entertainers included the Ardmore Academy Irish Dancers, the Bergen County Bagpipe Corp., Shrek and Fiona, and assorted leprechauns.
Earl Hicks, aka “Zoom Balloons,” is already a familiar face in Secaucus, having hosted a presentation of book origami at the library, which recently held an exhibit of his work. “This guy is a party waiting to happen,” said Secaucus Community Outreach Coordinator Lee Penna, who helped put the event together. A Jersey City resident, Hicks showed up at the street festival in wildly colorful attire to hand out balloon sculptures to young and old alike.

“It’s a great way to get the community together and at the same time to create a revenue for the town.” –A.J.
“I use the balloons as props to get kids and family moving, dancing, laughing,” he said. “I show them all it takes is a flick of the wrist to have color and movement. I do this with seniors that are in wheelchairs and walkers. I blow up enough balloons for everybody, usually about 50 balloons, and then to polka music I tell them all to put them up in the air and do that. It’s like being in the middle of a kaleidoscope, with all the colors.”

Food, skating, and pooches

Over in the ice rink, local hockey teams played exhibition games throughout the day, with public skating sessions in between. Members of the NJ Devils showed up for a meet and greet with the public.
Even pets got into the act, with residents bringing their canine family members along to enjoy the day. Mayor Michael Gonnelli showed up with Charlie, his Shih-tzu/Maltese mix. Joe and Nancy Stinson brought along Buddy, their six-year-old show poodle. And Anthony Franks, 11, attending the event with his cousins from Pennsylvania, introduced his six-month-old Chihuahua Chloe to the wonders of Secaucus. How did Chloe like it?
“Chloe thinks it’s amazing,” said Anthony.
Wandering through the crowd were brothers Thomas and David Marzouk, ages 7 and 10. “We’re here to buy things,” said David, showing off his festive green-and-white hat with flashing lights, bought from a vendor selling St. Paddy swag. Nearby were an array of kids’ activities like a bouncy house, climbing wall, and rodeo bull. But it was the wide variety of food that attracted many of the attendees.
“We sold out of our Irish soda bread cookies,” said Gina Petruzzelli of Sweet and Flour, the Secaucus bake shop, early on Saturday afternoon. Workers kept rushing back and forth from the store with fresh, warm cookies and treats. “Last night we sold out in like three hours. I keep replenishing but this is literally all I have left.” The shop also raffled off a gift basket, with the proceeds going to charity.
“My son is selling the beer right now,” said Secaucus resident Julia Bustin. “He’s the one in the beer garden in the kilt.” Attending with her friend Angela Conti from North Arlington, Bustin was enjoying a meal from food truck WTF.
“We’re a family-owned business out of Trenton,” said WTF owner Tim McRae, who founded the vividly bright red and yellow operation in 2013. “Most of these trucks, they only do one thing. They pigeonhole themselves. We change the menu to fit the event.”
For St. Patrick’s Day, the menu included McRae Burgers. “It’s our version of a Trenton Burger,” he said. “A Trenton burger is an 8-ounce burger with four pieces of pork roll from Trenton, New Jersey. Not Taylor Ham; Case Pork Roll. Pork roll is all we eat down there. We changed it today for the Irish aspect and made it a McRae Burger.”
A true entrepreneur, McRae piles his family into the food truck for the summer months while selling heating oil during the winter. In his spare time he runs an entertainment management company. The artists? His niece and nephew.
Also selling special St. Patrick’s Day grub was Jersey City resident Nobo Nakayama, with his Irish pancakes. “It’s Irish style with potato,” he explained. In Japan, the potato-less version is known as Okonomiyaki.
“The food in Japan is amazing,” said Nakayama, a former chef in both Japan and America. A U.S. resident for two years now, he launched his food truck 10 months ago, serving teriyaki chicken and Japanese omelets. “Once people try my food they want to come back again.”
No lie. His Irish pancakes were a big hit at the event.

Charlie’s regulars

As the sun sank, the action shifted from the playground to the beer garden and into Charlie’s Corner itself. Bands rocked into the night while locals danced, drank, or chatted (or some combination of the three).
Eric Shankland, known as “Shank,” lived upstairs from Charlie’s for seven years. He moved out about six months ago. “I got a little too old to be above a bar,” he laughed.
Around the same time, “A.J.” moved in down the street. “Out with the old, in with the new,” said Shank.
“I would have to say we are both Charlie’s regulars,” admitted A.J. “I moved here because the taxes are fantastic and it’s an easy commute into the greatest city in the world.” The St. Patrick’s Day event was his introduction to the many community activities that Secaucus regularly holds.
“It’s a great way to get the community together and at the same time to create a revenue for the town,” he said of the celebration. “It’s an all-ages event, the perfect microcosm for the old and the new. It’s like a miniature melting pot.”
“The mayor takes care of us as a whole. Not just individuals,” said Shank, pausing for a moment before continuing. “Except for skateboarders.”

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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