A stroke of bad luck transformed into a surprise blessing, spawning one of the oldest pizzerias in the United States.
Though born in the United States, Nick Bevacqua moved with his family to their homeland, Italy, as an infant, eventually returning at 17 years old. With little English but a strong work ethic, he toiled at manual labor jobs and, while digging a road trench, was hit by a car, landing him in the hospital for months. But the tragedy had a silver lining: With the $1,800 insurance settlement, he and a partner opened up Reservoir Tavern in 1936 in Boonton, New Jersey—far from a bustling metropolis at the time but the only spot they could afford. “He hung around the bigger towns, like Paterson and Jersey City, and tried to pick up hints,” recounts Nick Bevacqua III, grandson of the original founder and current owner. “It took forever to be successful but picked up in the ’50s and ’60s, when more people had cars and could get around.”
With slow-rise dough fired up in a coal oven, plus his wife’s beloved Italian recipes, the tavern eventually cemented its reputation and passed from father to son through three generations: first Frank and Nick Jr. (who turned 90 last January and remains a regular fixture at the business), and now Nick III, who grew up in the pizzeria juggling every job and assumed full operations in the early ’80s. With more than 80 years under its belt, Reservoir Tavern has not only flourished, it has become a bona fide landmark in Boonton, even nabbing a TV spot on 20/20. “We spend absolutely no money on marketing, but everyone knows us in North Jersey—even as far away as Europe!” Nick III marvels. “With so much history and so many memories, this place is truly unique.”
The once-tiny converted house and speakeasy has grown to a full bar and restaurant with seating for 127 and a vast kitchen to crank out its famous Clam & Garlic Pizza and other family-style favorites. And it continues to evolve with the times, now offering third-party delivery service, gluten-free pies, and eclectic menu specials to suit modern palates. “People are more educated now, so if you make an exceptional product, they appreciate that,” Nick III says. “You could set your clock by some of our customers walking in, and that’s what we love: the people. I say it’s dumb luck, but I guess we did something right!”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.