Richard Mack was born in 1933 in the Bronx, New York. With Eastern European Jewish roots, Mack grew up primarily in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where his father, nicknamed Manny Mack, began a liquor business in 1944. In the interview, Mack recalls World War II-era New Brunswick and traces changes in the city over the ensuing decades. He discusses growing up in the family business, incorporated under the name One Eleven Wines & Liquors and known as Manny's Den. Located at 111 Albany Street, the business began as a bar and packaged goods store and then became a restaurant run by Manny and Leah Mack.
Richard Mack attended Livingston and then Roosevelt Junior High School in New Brunswick, before going to Solebury School, a private high school, from which he graduated in 1951. After briefly attending Washington and Lee, Mack went to Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener University. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Mack served on active duty for six months and then in the Reserves for eight-and-a-half years. Mack attended Seton Hall Law School, but he left law school to join his parents in the family business.
In the late 1950s, when a local gay bar shut down, the patrons started going to Manny's Den. In 1965, investigators of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) raided Manny's Den and suspended its liquor license for "permitting apparent homosexuals to congregate." Mack and his parents, represented by lawyers Theodore Sager Meth and David Morris, challenged the suspension of the liquor license of One Eleven Wines & Liquors and lost in the ABC hearing. Upon appeal to the Appellate Division, the suspension of the license was sustained. One Eleven Wines & Liquors joined as appellants with Val's Bar in Atlantic City and Murphy's Tavern in Newark, both of which had been disciplined by the ABC. In the case One Eleven Wines and Liquors, Inc., A New Jersey Corporation, v. Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control 50 N.J. 329 (1967) 235 A.2d 12, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered the ABC's Rules 4 and 5 that the department used to target the congregation of homosexuals in bars. On November 6, 1967, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that gay patrons had the right to gather in bars.
While the case was pending, Mack took over the business from his parents. After the landmark legal ruling, Manny's Den continued as a gay bar patronized by locals, as well as by Rutgers University students. Mack expanded and operated nightclubs in Phoenix, New Orleans and Chicago for a time. During redevelopment in New Brunswick, Manny's Den was evicted from its location on Albany Street. Manny's Den, or The Den, reopened on Hiram Street, and eventually, when the Hiram Market area was razed, The Den moved to Hamilton Street in Somerset. Mack's children, Randi and Peter, grew up in the family business, and Peter took over as the third generation to run the family business, currently operating as Sophie's Bistro. Richard Mack passed away in 2013.
The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2020-2022 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.