Not every death notice includes the request that “instead of wearing suits or dress clothes to Joe’s funeral, please wear your favorite golf apparel.”
But Joe Mullan was not a suit, even though many of his customers are.
Joseph A. Mullan Jr., 60, of Sicklerville, who died of cancer on Monday, July 8, was the longtime manager of Oscar’s Tavern, a rough-around-the-edges bar at 1524 Sansom St.
For four decades, bathed in the barroom’s red glow, he watched Center City transform from a 9-to-5, two-martini-lunch world into a vibrant dawn-to-late-night scene.
“Back in the ’80s, we used to open at 7 in the morning and did most of our business at lunchtime,” Mr. Mullan said in 2015. “People used to drink at lunch.”
Mr. Mullan — an honorific he would chuckle about, but that’s the obit style here — was 21 and tending bar at the Stouffer’s restaurant across the street when Oscar’s owner Harry Chodak offered him a job. An 8-ounce mug of Schlitz was 35 cents and Michelob was 40. Now, draft beers are less than $5.
Oscar’s became his world. It’s where he met his wife of 24 years, Angel, who now works at the bar with their daughter, Brianna, and his sister-in-law, Dyann “Dee” Donoflio-Welsh.
The dive-bar description is “a double-edged sword,” he said in 2015. “I’ve always said that even a negative reputation is better than no reputation at all — that way, customers know what they’re getting into. But some people will think, ‘Oh, it’s a dive bar, hell with this place, we can just be messy, trash it, it doesn’t matter.’ Well, no. It does matter. ... I take a lot of pride in this place. It hurts my feelings when somebody says this place is a toilet. This is my whole life right here, man.”
When asked why he didn’t remodel the place, Mr. Mullan replied: “Well, nowadays we’re in competition, so many other places — there’s enough of those places. My business, my marketing, is to not be the same as those folks. Stay reasonable, keep costs low, keep overhead low, and that way you’ll do volume, quantity.”
By and large, Mr. Mullan got plenty of respect. "I could be anywhere in the city, up in the Northeast or something, and if I have my Oscar’s T-shirt on, people are like, “Oh, my God — I know Oscar’s,” he said.
In a 2018 appreciation of Oscar’s that followed its brief shutdown by the city Health Department, Inquirer columnist Samantha Melamed wrote: “This is common ground, a place where people of all races, classes, and genders treat one another with civility, union laborers huddled along the bar next to journalists, lawyers, and the unemployed. It is also the only bar where the staff remember my order: a pint of Philadelphia Brewing Co.'s Kenzinger kolsch and — this is the key to surviving a weekly bar column — a glass of water.”
And when asked in 2015 how long he would keep it up, Mr. Mullan replied: “What the hell else do I know how to do? This is what I do. I know what I’m doing here. And I enjoy it.”
Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, Joseph; a granddaughter; a brother; and two sisters.
Viewing will be from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Ora L. Wooster Funeral Home, 51 Park Blvd., Clementon, followed by a service at 2. Cremation will be private.