All About Zack’s Oak Bar: A Hoboken Staple

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For someone who has lived in Hoboken, whether for two months or 20 years, chances are that they have, at least, seen the crowd at Zack’s Old Bar and Restaurant. Founded by Mark and Sheila Nisler, two Hoboken locals in 1997, the downtown establishment has been serving the neighborhood consistently well-executed American classics for more than two decades.

The menu is not avant-garde but consciously keeps pace with the most recent food trends. The dishes are substantial but never boring, a balanced mixture of American favorites and international flavors. The service is crisp and warp speed, a combination of old-school attentiveness with a family-like warmth. There is, as Ashleigh Murphy, the gregarious general manager, who is also the mastermind behind Zack’s stellar cocktail menu, told Hoboken Girl, “something for everyone.” Here’s a bit more about this off-the-beaten spot that we’re throwing some love, just because.

zacks oak bar hoboken

{Photo credit: @zacksoakbarandrestaurant}

The Food

zacks oak bar hoboken

{Photo credit: @zacksoakbarandrestaurant}

The food, of course, is Zack’s biggest draw. The appetizers are substantial and comforting enough to be served as main dishes, but portion and heartiness are far from their only virtues. One of the customer favorites is Zack’s notoriously famous mac and cheese, beautifully charred on the surface and incredibly gooey and stretchy underneath.

The use of conchiglie, a large shell-shaped pasta, makes it easier to sop up the melted cheese and gives the dish an addictive bite. In other dishes, creative tweaks are applied to familiar recipes. There are the crispy spring rolls filled with velvety braised short ribs. Also make sure to try the crunchy baked cauliflower, tossed in a piquent Kung Pao sauce. 

zacks oak bar hoboken

{Photo credit: @zacksoakbarandrestaurant}

“We sometimes add popular ethnic food elements to the menu, sometimes Asian, sometimes Mexican or Italian,” Ashleigh explained. “But the concept is always familiar to everyone.”

Read More: Great Food + Company: The Recipe for Porta Jersey City’s Success

The menu changes at least twice a year with seasonal specials. Spring and summer is the time for lobster ravioli, garnished with sweet corn and halved cherry tomatoes, and tossed in a subtly zesty wine sauce. Colder seasons would see short rib ravioli on the menu, topped with wild mushrooms cooked in a rich white truffle cream sauce. 

“Mark, Sheila, and I would sit down together before every season to decide what the new menu looks like,” Ashleigh told Hoboken Girl. “We also work with a very dedicated kitchen team to test the new dishes.”

Certain all-time favorites, of course, remain on the menu year-round. Almost all customers swear by Zack’s stuffed chicken, an exciting concoction of texture and flavor. The tenderness of the breaded chicken is enhanced by the silky mashed potato. The umami from the juicy chicken meat is brightened up by a well-rounded, pleasantly sweet five-spice sauce. 

The Drinks

zacks oak bar hoboken

{Photo credit: @zacksoakbarandrestaurant}

The restaurant is also known for its excellent wine list and outstanding cocktail menu, both of which change seasonally. Ashleigh, who oversees the drink menu, experiments with a wide array of wines and liquors, many made by local winemakers and distillers, to give her drinks unique spins for every season and special occasion.

This October, for example, she created a Drink Pink special for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, made of pink gin, Chambord {a sweet, fruity, black raspberry liqueur}, Orgeat {a slightly nutty, aromatic almond-based syrup}, lemon juice thyme syrup Prosecco {a dry Italian sparkling wine}.

A Community Staple

zacks oak bar hoboken

{Photo credit: @zacksoakbarandrestaurant}

Since its founding in 1997, the restaurant has almost become a miniature of the very neighborhood it resides in, resonating with its particular rhythms and routines. Weekend mornings bring some of the largest brunch crowds in town {pre-COVID-19, of course}, some in sweatshirts and some in their Sunday best.

For weekdays lunches, the stream of eaters — work-from-home professionals, young moms, hospital workers from across the street — doesn’t slow down until mid-afternoon. Customers start rolling in for dinners as early as 5:30PM, and the crowd thins out only late at night. In fact, Zack’s has become an anchor of the neighborhood to which locals and visitors come for all occasions.

zacks oak bar hoboken

{Photo credit: @zacksoakbarandrestaurant}

A quick scroll through the restaurant’s Yelp reviews would bring up reminiscences of romantic date nights, business meetings, parents’ visits, or just casual dinners within close families. “Our service is VERY fast!” Ashleigh “The kitchen and front of the house really work well with each other, and the team, which is like a big family, is very good at accommodating any special requests.”

See More: The Yacht Club: An Expansive Seafood Restaurant in Edgewater

In the interim, Zack’s has also witnessed and weathered multiple crises with the town, including 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and most recently, the Coronavirus pandemic. Ashleigh, newly promoted to her current management role months before the outbreak, found herself in the vortex of emergencies, overseeing Zack’s pivot to take-out and delivery while organizing aids to essential workers and other local businesses at the same time.

zacks oak bar hoboken

{Photo credit: @zacksoakbarandrestaurant}

Now, the restaurant has come out strong as ever. It is back to full service, with 25 outdoor tables spaciously set up around two sides of a street corner, all equipped with heating lamps in preparation for the upcoming winter months.

For Hoboken Girl, {and many cocktail lovers}, one thing to look forward to at Zack’s this season is the Hot Toddy, a hot cocktail usually served in winter. The drink, a heart-warming concoction of Misunderstood ginger whiskey {a local whiskey brand} and amaro {a bitter-sweet herbal liqueur} with a kiss of winter spice syrup and lemon, is served in a sleek mini teapot, which keeps the cocktail warm.

Diners pour their own drink into a mug and sip at their own pace while nurturing intimate conversations in the crisp, cozy winter nights. 2020 might be crazy, but a good cocktail, better still accompanying great food, never fails to soothe our body and soul. Consider this a Zack’s appreciation post.

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Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.