story and photos by Darren Paltrowitz
Smokin’ Barrel (1313 Willow Avenue) is a fun and unique take on a Hoboken sports bar. 20+ beers are on tap at any given time, in addition to 20+ flat-screen TV’s and a BBQ-centric food menu. In their own words: “it’s Texas barbecue, Jersey-style.”
Bartender P.J. McLaughlin, is a New Jersey native with a lot of years spent in Hoboken. P.J., who also serves as bar manager, is one of those bartenders who knows a lot about a lot. He took the time to answer some questions for hMAG about the establishment, but more importantly, the better parts of his trade.
hMAG: How did you first become a bartender?
P.J. McLaughlin: I have been working in the restaurant business my whole life. It was just natural that I ended up behind the bar at 18. My first full-time bartending gigs were at the Stuft Shirt in South Orange—which was a well known college bar and grill right outside of the Seton Hall campus—and down the shore at DeGregorio’s Restaurant in Tuckerton Beach, on the bay off of Long Beach Island.
H: What is the most difficult part of managing a bar?
P: Managing a bar and being successful at it is by far no easy task. I think the most important things are staying consistent both in your work and your product, and keeping yourself organized. Something is always coming up to throw you out of your routine, so it’s important to be proactive, as opposed to reactive.
H: What is your favorite part about your job?
P: The relationships you build—both with your guests as well as your staff. I’ve met so many amazing people from working in the hospitality industry. Some of my closest friends I’ve met working in a bar.
H: To receive the best service possible, gratuities aside, what should a customer do?
P: Plain and simple: just be nice! All bartenders want their guests to be engaged and leave the bar wanting to come back.
H: For those who haven’t yet been to the Smokin’ Barrel, how would you describe the place?
P: It has a great sports bar atmosphere. There are TV’s everywhere to watch a game, or several at one time for that matter, and it’s great to see fans come together and interact with each other while cheering on their team. Right now we have the MLB package, so you can come watch any baseball game anytime!
H: What makes the Smokin’ Barrel different from other Hoboken bars?
P: As with any bar, I think your staff is always going to be your driving factor as to whether or not your business is successful. But aside from a great staff, I think we bring a true southern feel to the city with our house-smoked BBQ, wide selection of bourbons, live music, and Southern hospitality.
H: What is your favorite item on the menu?
P: Everybody loves the wings! The Chipotle BBQ is my personal favorite. I love the Pulled Pork as well, dry-rubbed with a sweet vinegar BBQ sauce, which pairs well with a Smuttynose Old Brown Dog or a Buffalo Trace on the rocks.
H: When you’re not there at the Smokin’ Barrel, where in Hoboken do you enjoy spending time?
P: These days, you would have a better chance finding me at Church Street Park with my daughter Layla than out on the town in my downtime. I am excited for the warm weather, though, so I imagine you will find me over at Pier 13 doing some paddleboarding.
H: Finally, any last words for the kids?
P: We look forward to seeing you at the Barrel! Come by soon!