Home Food + DrinkBars Brightside Tavern: Jersey City’s ‘Best-Kept Secret’

Brightside Tavern: Jersey City’s ‘Best-Kept Secret’

by Yiwei Gu
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Local hidden gems for food, drinks, and activities are what make the Hudson County community so great and unique. Jersey City is one HC city literally loaded with them — like the new Lobster Garage, the Dullboy speakeasy, and more. Another to add to that list is Brightside Tavern. This locale can be found at 141 Bright Street, Jersey City, and is one of JC’s “best-kept secrets.”

{Photo credit: @brightsidetavern}

The Brightside Experience

“How did you find us,” is what Brightside Tavern’s owner Tommy Parisi {or Tommy 2 Scoops as patrons love to call him} jokingly asked when Hoboken Girl got in touch. “We are this area’s best-kept secret!” 

There is a kernel of truth to this claim. One who hastily looks at its occasional social media posts and the few hundred Yelp reviews would easily mistake Brightside Tavern for another neighborhood tavern selling burgers and wings. Other than that, there isn’t much from the online world to learn about this business. Maybe that’s the point since at Brightside Tavern, people are at the center of everything. 

Read More: 4 Speakeasy-Style Cocktail + Food Bars in Jersey City

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The Beginnings of Brightside

When the one-time salesman, Jersey City landlord, former gelato shop owner {hence Tommy 2 Scoops}, and {probably} the most popular guy in Jersey City opened Brightside Tavern nine years ago, the goal was to create an atmosphere similar to that of Cheers.  And as it turned out, Brightside was even more cheerful than Cheers. On a regular weekend afternoon, families and couples eagerly dig into heaping plates of food while having small chats with gregarious bartenders and waiters. Tommy circulates around introducing everyone and asking regulars about their families and jobs. Every five minutes during our chat with Tommy, it seems, an acquaintance would stop by to say hello. “Tommy, holding court again?” “Haven’t seen any Facebook updates from you since April!” 

“I love entertaining people and making them happy,” Tommy told Hoboken Girl. In fact, he seems to have unlimited time and energy for everyone, whether he has known that person for five minutes or fifteen years. “I know what my guests and friends are up to.” 

Zap Fitness

Tommy keeps an enormous and ever-expanding list of birthdays on his phone and sends out more than 30 birthday wishes each with a personal touch every morning. “I write down a few interesting facts about everyone — that’s how I remember.” He would scroll down the contact list and point to an encounter he took note of on a random day. “Even if I have only met the person once, it’s a nice reminder to me of what happened that day,” he said.

See More: 14+ NEW Hoboken + Jersey City Restaurants to Check Out This Summer

The Center of a Community 

Gradually, the bar has become the center of gravity of a large community. In fact, it is one of Jersey City’s go-to spots for parties and events as the tavern is set up for large gatherings. There are two whole floors of “party rooms” with big screens, game tables, dart boards, and mini basketball hoops, as well as various musical equipment. In non-COVID times {and hopefully in the somewhat near future}, there would be a music event every day of the week, karaoke, open mic, dance, etc. 

Monday is always for jazz, for which more than a dozen local musicians are brought in to perform every week. Sometimes Tommy himself will hop on stage to render a “What a Wonderful World” to a roaring audience. “I was on National TV. I sang at [the] Apollo theater. The entire Louis Armstrong song. Think about it,” Tommy shared.

“Birthdays, baptism, bridal showers, baby showers, you name it. We have arranged parties of all sizes.” People gather at Brightside Tavern for more than just special occasions. Brightside Tavern trivia nights frequently pop up on the Jersey City sub-Reddit and the scene is a kaleidoscope of local life. “One day we have an 80-year-old and one-year-old celebrating birthdays at the same time. Another day there’s a party upstairs all wearing black, and a roomful of people downstairs all in white,” Tommy told Hoboken Girl. “Our clientele is really multicultural. We have people from all over town,” he shared — a testament to those Cheers vibes. ”

The Menu 

bright side burger

{Photo credit: @brightsidetavern}

Speaking of brunch, it is served seven days a week alongside a regular menu. “I don’t want to brag about it, but our food is consistently very good! Also, they are really affordable,” Tommy said. 

The menu consists mostly of American classics — “good burgers and good wings,” as Tommy put it, “we don’t try fancy new recipes very often” — but whatever is made is made very well. The salads and wraps are fresh, flavorful, and comforting. The custard-soaked French toasts are just phenomenal. And fancier items pop up from time to time, such as steamed mussels or lamb burgers. “I have good people taking charge of the kitchen. But I call the shots.” 

The Impact of COVID-19

Even the pandemic hasn’t killed the fun spirit here at Brightside. “We’ve kept people working. We’ve been making food for delivery and takeout. And we’ve been busy revamping the space, putting up awnings, and re-paving the floor,” Tommy explained. 

There is still hope for the much anticipated bi-annual Brightside Tavern film festival, which usually falls in August. In less than five years, the festival, which started as a casual one-day celebration, has become a weekend-long gala showing more than 100 short films of various genres. It was in fact the brainchild of two former Brightside Tavern employees, and the community-like atmosphere of the bar made it a natural platform for up-and-coming filmmakers to showcase their work and connect with a large audience. In fact, the social factor is one of the biggest appeals of the festival. Tommy relishes the memories of past years’ experiences. “After more than two days of showing, on Sunday night, everyone gathers in one room to enjoy the award nights. That was special!”

Watching Tommy shuffling between front and back of the house, serving dishes, chatting nonstop with patrons and friends, and sometimes making deliveries himself, it’s hard to believe the guy bursting with energy is already 73 years old. His freewheeling conversations are even more lively, studded with real estate tips, neighborhood history, friendship stories from more than 10 years ago. Maybe the energy comes from people, which over the years he has amassed around Brightside Tavern. “[The tavern] is not a gold mine,” he loves to say. “It’s a soul mine.”

Have you been to Brightside Tavern? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!


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