On any given day you may run into Tom Ritter, aka The Pope of First Street. Although he can’t quite remember who gave him the moniker, Ritter is definitely living up to the title. While you may not know him by name, you’ve surely spotted him out and about on Irish Row. Tall, dark haired, and frequently sporting a Newsboy cap, Ritter is known by face to many and by reputation to locals.
“My friends joke that you can’t get me out of First Street,” said Ritter. “Some of the best things Hoboken has to offer are here.”
For the last eight years, he has called the First Street area of Hoboken home. From Filippo’s for Italian food to La Isla for Cuban food, and open mic gigs at Northern Soul, the Shannon and McSwiggan’s – to name a few – Ritter has made a home for himself in this little downtown neighborhood.
Initially, Ritter was attracted to the Mile Square because of the proximity to Manhattan. And like many young Hobokenites he moved here because it was a hub that was connected to everything, unlike where he grew up in the middle of the woods in South Jersey.
Hoboken provided a great neighborhood feel, a way to feel connected to many locals who he now calls friends. No matter the time of day you can run into familiar faces, he says.
Being the “Pope” has its privileges – and its responsibilities. Like many urban dwellers, Ritter finds that most of what he needs or wants in a short span of streets. But while strangers could perhaps do errands quickly, Ritter finds himself stopping to say hello to many in his neighborhood.
“They treat you like family. It’s way better than the neighborhood I grew up in,” said Ritter as he sipped on a Sazerac cocktail at Cooper’s Union. “It’s a good old-fashioned manly cocktail.” It is a cocktail suited for Ritter, who on the night in question is dressed in an elegant suit – along with his signature cap.
And Ritter does embody a gentlemanly charm. On many occasions you can catch him at his favorite places chatting with friends or strangers about the gems of the neighborhood:
“Nag’s Head has the best Guinness in town,” he said. “At the Shannon, I hosted an open mic night for a long time. No one at Swig’s ever needs to ask me what I’m drinking. Getting to know Paddy at Swig’s and following him to Cooper’s.”
As a local, he also knows people’s quirks. “Like Cormack at the Shannon. You tell him you need your check and you get two more drinks before he lets you leave,” he adds.
In addition to supporting the local businesses, Ritter has also done many live performances in the area with his acoustic guitar. Last summer, Ritter played at Cooper’s Union, and continually performs throughout the year at places such as Northern Soul, Nag’s Head, and the Shannon Lounge.
“When I was 25 my parents bought my brother a guitar for Christmas, and I decided they gave it to the wrong child,” said Ritter. “I decided I needed one of those like yesterday.
Although Ritter mostly plays independently, he is constantly collaborating with local musician buddies such as Tom Moloney.
“I play with a lot of people in town; it’s a good gig,” said Ritter. “I started learning [to play] with Brian Quinn in 2005 when 1 Republik was Mile Square. He would let me play three to four songs with him. He was a good tutor.”
Ritter and company will perform acoustic cover tunes such as “Black” by Pearl Jam, 80s music, and even a little Michael Jackson. However, his top favorite to sing and perform acoustically is “gangsta rap.”
“A good groove is a good groove, and a funky jam is a funky jam,” said Ritter. “I don’t discriminate.”
But music isn’t his only passion. Ritter also dabbles as a videographer. His business, G Street Media LLC. has captured many videos of locals for his online magazine. With almost 250 videos shot, you can watch clips of local bands such as the Baltimore Argument, Tom Moloney, and even shots of the Cluck You Chicken. The videos have been viewed over 50,000 times a year on YouTube, he says.
“If you ever want to see these guys in action, you’ll find all these videos,” said Ritter.
As an unofficial guide to the best of First Street, he can tell you where to go to get what you need.
“Go to Filippo’s for their pizza and their split pea soup,” he says, adding that he didn’t particularly care for that kind before trying it at the pizzeria. “You can’t live here and not try it. It’s the best in town.”
Additional information provided by Diana Schwaeble.