NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Frank Tumulty was a schoolteacher with a wife and three young children when he decided to pursue his dream of opening a pub in the Hub City where Rutgers students could go on date nights, families could gather for dinner and urban professionals could unwind with a drink or two.
In 1963, he bought the joint at 427 George St., told the riffraff who had been going there to beat it and rechristened the place Tumulty’s.
For the next five decades, the name Tumulty’s became synonymous in New Brunswick with plates piled high with pub fare served with side orders of charm and ambiance.
Frank Tumulty died Sunday at the age of 90 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He built the pub into a cherished landmark where people sat in high back booths, ate the trademark wedge of lettuce (oh, the blue cheese dressing!) and watched the model trains run along wooden beams suspended above the dining room.
“My grandfather ran the bar before my dad bought it and he ran a real down-and-dirty, shot-and-beer joint,” said Peter Tumulty. “My dad had a different vision. He politely but firmly asked all the clientele that used to be hanging there to leave, not to come back. He focused on building more of a restaurant.”
Tumulty’s, which was sold and renamed Tavern on George in 2018, has a history about as long and winding as those train tracks.
About seven years after Frank Tumulty bought the place, it was destroyed by a fire. Although Tumulty’s rose from the ashes, Johnson & Johnson eventually bought the property during one of its expansion phases.
Tumulty’s relocated to 361 George St. where workers at the Middlesex County Courthouse could pop in for lunch or theatergoers could enjoy a late snack after a show.
Frank Tumulty ran the red-bricked restaurant for a few more years, but around 1985, he sold it to his son and one of his daughters.
Peter Tumulty said it wasn’t so much that their dad imparted business advice to them as he showed them how to win the hearts and minds – and palates – of generations of customers.
“I wouldn't say it was spoken advice, but it was just the way he ran the day to day and his philosophy,” Tuumulty said. “We obviously had our own vision, and we expanded the menu and times change, so you have to change with them. But, that core philosophy of giving people value and respecting people and give them a good time always remained.”
Frank Tumulty was born in New Brunswick on Feb. 15, 1931, and grew up in the 2nd Ward. After attending St. Peter’s High School, he earned a degree in economics from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
After serving in the Army during the Korean War, he worked as a teacher in the Edison school district.
He married Helen Barnwell in 1955 and the two took a leap of faith and opened Tumulty’s in 1963.
Helen Tumulty died in 2018. The couple couldn’t have imagined how beloved their pub would become with diners in New Brunswick and beyond.
One often-told family story surrounds a hard-earned vacation the couple took to Bermuda. While on the beach they met a couple and told them they were from New Jersey.
“The other couple said, ‘We love this place in New Brunswick, New Jersey called Tumulty’s,’” Peter Tumulty said. “But, you know, we were open so long, we served so many people, so there's so many stories like that. And it's certainly a source of pride for the whole family when we say our names and people remember. It really warms our hearts.”
Frank Tumulty is survived by his son, Peter, and his wife Barbara of Milltown; his daughters, Mary Beth and her husband Robert Brandes of Ortley Beach, and Carol and her husband Stephen Dzuro of Milltown; his sister, Elizabeth Kerrigan of Libertyville, Illinois; his brother-in-law Ed Barnwell of Oceanport; his sister-in-law Donna Tumulty of Lake Park, Florida; and his companion Marilyn Taylor of Portland, Maine.
He is also survived by his grandchildren, Katie, Jenny, Michael, Brian, Emily, Elizabeth, Peter, Caitlyn and Patrick; his great-grandchildren, Connor, Noah, Elizabeth, Emma, Manny and a host of nieces and nephews.
All funeral services will be private at the request of the family and under the direction of the Gleason Funeral Home in Franklin.