CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
STEP INN LOUNGE
2802 Buren Avenue
Southeast Corner of North 28th Street & Buren Avenue
The Step Inn Lounge operated in what had been for many years Jimmy's Tavern at 2802 Buren Avenue in the Cramer Hill section of Camden NJ. Jimmy's Tavern operated from the 1940s through the late 1970s, and was a venue for live country music for many years. The Step Inn featured live rock music played by local bands.
2802 Buren Avenue was not a bar prior to Prohibition. The 1920 census shows August W. "Augie" Oswald Jr. as the owner Born in Pennsylvania, his family came to the Cramer Hill when he was young. By 1920 he had married, and owned the home at 2802 Buren Street. At the time of the 1920 census he was working as a caulker in a shipyard, probably the Noecker, Rickenbach and Ake Shipyard which was across the street from his home. Augie Oswald and family was still at 2802 Buren Avenue in 1930, and then working in the coal business. By 1939 he was involved in the bar business, and was the licensee for the bar at 1000 N. 27th Street in 1939. This bar was operated by Dick Bowen as Dick's Cafe by 1946.
Augie Oswald had also obtained a license for his house at 2802 Buren Street, and opened up a bar first using his front porch. In the mid-1940s he turned the bar over to his son-in-law, James W. Eskridge, who had married his daughter, Florence Oswald. Augie Oswald continued in business, operating a small fleet of trucks.
The 1946 Camden City Directory shows Jimmy's Tavern at 2802 Buren Avenue, with James W. "Wally" Eskridge as the proprietor, featuring "Steaks and Sea Food, Beer, Wine, and Liquor". Jimmy's would soon add live Country & Western bands, which would be a staple there into the 1970s. Among the acts who came through Jimmy's at one time or another were singer Pee Wee Miller, and cowboy movie actor Sunset Carson. It is very probable that Bill Haley came through Jimmy's in the late 1940s or early 1950s in his pre-Rock Around The Clock days.
The bar drew customers from the neighborhood, and was also a favorite of Camden's police and firemen.
James Eskridge was born December 18, 1913 in Maryland to Elwood and Anna R. Eskridge. The family moved to Camden NJ in the late 1920s, making their home at 815 North 2nd Street. Elwood Eskridge made his living as a shipyard carpenter at the time of the 1930 census. His work may have taken him to the Noecker, Rickenbach and Ake Shipyard in Cramer Hill, which specialized in wooden ships and boats. At some point James Eskridge made the acquaintance of Augie Oswald, and the bar at 2802 Buren Avenue was born.
Jimmy's Tavern changed management in 1968, according to an advertisement that ran in the Camden Courier-Post that summer. In the mid-1970s the bar was sold to Billy Eckel, who changed the hours of operation, the ambience, and name. The bar was renamed the Step Inn. Step Inn was not a commercial success, and closed after a short time. The building fell into disrepair and was torn down.
Billy Eckel later operated the Pavonia House in the early 1980s.
While 2802 Buren Avenue was the home of Jimmy's Tavern from the 1940s through the 1970s, Augie Oswald still kept a residence there as late as 1959. He moved to Cape May NJ sometime after 1959, where he passed away in September of 1970.
James Eskridge passed away in October of 1976. His last address was in Woodbury NJ.
Changing demographics in the Cramer Hill neighborhood spelled the end of Jimmy's Tavern. The bar is no longer standing.
|FALSTEETH on stage at the Step Inn - circa 1977|
|photo from http://www.cramerhill.biz/mainpage.html|
Shuffleboard was big in those days, and not many bars didn't have one. Most cashed pay checks on Friday nights which always included a couple of draft beers (10 cents) and an occasional "shot" (25 cents)!
Let me tell you about entertainment at Jimmy's. My Mom & Dad would usually go to Jimmy's on a Saturday night and sometimes take me with them. Of course we used the "lounge entrance" (remember no ladies through the bar door). I drank orange soda or ginger ale, I'm like 12-14 years old at the time. They drank "highballs" and danced. They dressed up, suit & tie, dress & heels, in those days. The Bobby, Mac, & Jack Trio played there for years. They would entice my mother to come up and sing "Frankie & Johnny (were lovers)" and "Buttons & Bows". Now Mom wasn't any great voice, but she always was asked to sing and the crowd loved her. I of course thought she was fabulous.
J. "Hock" Hockensmith
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