by Walter Fox
Hugh J. McNally, 81, the proprietor of his family’s tavern in Chestnut Hill for three decades who played an active role in the community, died Sept 11 of heart failure at his home in Chestnut Hill.
Mr. McNally took over McNally’s Tavern, at 8634 Germantown Ave., from his father in 1964 and retired in 1994, passing on ownership of the business to his daughters Ann and Meg. During his tenure as owner, he completely renovated the tavern – making it a community gathering spot – and took the lead in the Philadelphia area by converting it in 1998 into a non-smoking establishment.
But he will probably be best remembered by his customers for his invention of the “Schmitter,” a sandwich he created by combining steak and salami with cheese tomatoes and fried onions for a customer who only drank Schmidt’s beer. The sandwich quickly became a house trademark, and can be purchased today at McNally’s concessions at Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field, where it is known as a “major league sandwich.”
Mr. McNally’s concerns, however, went well beyond his business. In the 1970s he served as a board member and president of the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation, and was actively involved with tree-planting efforts on the Avenue. In 1993 he accepted the Meritorious Service Award of the Chestnut Hill Community Association presented to his family for “substantially improving the quality of living in the community.”
In passing on the tavern to his daughters, Mr. McNally paid tribute to family history. The business was started in 1921 as McNally’s Light Lunch by his grandmother, Rose McNally, who realized there was no place for motormen and ticket-takers on the Route 23 trolley line to get coffee and a sandwich near the Chestnut Hill terminus of the line – then one of the longest trolley routes in the country.
Shortly after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, McNally’s became a tavern, although not without strong opposition from some family members.
Mr. McNally, a graduate of Holy Cross Parish School in Mt. Airy and Northeast Catholic High School, joined the Marines during the Korean War. After returning home in 1954, he was asked by his father, Hugh P. McNally, to fill in as a bartender at the family tavern, beginning a four-decade association with the business. Two years later, he was married to the former Peggy Lawless, whom he had met as a high school student.
During his retirement, Mr. McNally and his wife enjoyed spending time at their summer home in Ship Bottom, N.J., and at a family cottage in County Donegal, Ireland.
Mrs. McNally described her husband as a sensitive and generous man who had a lifetime love of books and reading.
“He had been indifferent to books until a high school teacher gave him “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London,” she said. “From then on he was addicted.”
In addition to his wife and daughters, Mr. McNally is survived by sons Hugh, John and Colin; a brother, Andrew; a sister, Sister Mary Sarah, R.S.M., and 10 grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Our Mother of Consolation Church, 9 E. Chestnut Hill Ave. Relatives and friends may call at the church starting at 9 a.m. A memorial Mass at St. Francis Church on Long Beach Island will be scheduled. Memorial donations may be made to St. Joseph Villa, 110 W. Wissahickon Ave., Flourtown, PA 19031.