Though this unique venue is packed Friday through Sunday and can be seen for miles on busy Route 440, in many ways it’s Bayonne’s best-kept secret.
Yes, it’s well-known for off-track betting. The dramatic neon sign and illuminated façade “say” horseracing, and once inside, 150 flat-screen TVs feature major racetracks with all the majesty of the track: gorgeous thoroughbreds, jockeys in their colorful silks, and spectators rooting for the horse that will win them the big bucks.
But there’s so much more.
When you think Winners, don’t think casino. One of the trademark characteristics of most casinos, whether in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, is their dark, gaudy interiors, devoid of clocks, so you can lose track of time and space as you gamble into eternity.
Winners has a contemporary feel with huge windows that shine light on the proceedings. Depending on where you are, you can view Bayonne’s signature landscape of oil drums in the marshlands, cranes on the waterfront, and in the distance, clearly visible, the World Trade Center alone on the horizon. On the other side, another towering feature, Bayonne’s majestic wind turbine.
We were there on a Tuesday in late afternoon. (Hold that thought.) It was the end of winter, but it was still light. At this less-travelled day and time, the few customers were men of a certain age. One joked that he didn’t want his picture taken because he’d told his wife he was at work.
A huge open area features a vast bar, and to the right a simulcast center with screens and kiosks. There’s another simulcast area in back and, off that, a VIP room. I peaked into the VIP room. There was one guy in there with an ancient-looking hand-scribbled document that was mysterious to me but I’m sure vital to him.
OK, let’s get back to that all-important day of the week—Tuesday. It’s Burger Night at McLoone’s Bayonne Grille, the self-contained restaurant to the left of the entrance. Who can beat a $6 burger? I’m not even a big fan of burgers, but this one was delicious. Theresa, our waiter, recommended the ever-popular Belmont: Swiss cheese, sautéed onions, mushrooms, bacon, and spicy mayo on a brioche with French fries. Medium rare, it was perfectly cooked, not the least bit dry. The fixings were great, but I wager that even a plain one with ketchup would do the trick.
Of course, you can’t have a burger without beer. Check out Terri’s picture of the beautiful one I ordered, sparkling in the sun.
Eleven draft beers include Blue Moon, Sam Rebel IPA, and Angry Orchard. Eleven bottled beers include Becks, Heineken, and Corona.
Wine- and cocktail-lovers are also in luck. There’s a full wine list and a selection of cocktails, including Bloody Marys, rum drinks, spiked pink lemonade, sangria, Bayonne iced coffee with a whole bunch of spirits, Saddler’s tea (vodka), and Margaritas.
Next up, McLoone’s cheese pizza. This is a nice, bar-sized pie. It was crispy and beautifully seasoned and not at all greasy.
And last, we ordered the fish tacos, composed of grilled tilapia, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, and cilantro-lime sauce. This is a healthy choice for folks who want to lay off the pizza and burgers. The fish was very fresh and seasonings very zesty.
But there’s lots more on the menu, a full range of small plates, soups, salads, handhelds, sides, grilled cheese bar, comfort food, and entrees.
Listen up, Bayonne folks, you need to think of Winners as a dining option, not just a place to wager on horses. I know nothing about betting, but I would come back in a heartbeat to soak up the ambience and enjoy an evening out at the restaurant or bar.
Though the clientele may be older, I’m talking to you, millennials—gather your friends, enjoy reasonably priced food and drink, learn how to bet or, if you’re already a pro, teach your pals.
One caveat: ya gotta drive. No walking across 440, but there’s ample free parking.
You can bet on Winners.—Kate Rounds.
McLoone’s Bayonne Grill
400 Route 440 N.