NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—January 17 was a sad day for the city of New Brunswick. It was the day Bobby Albert might have shut down the Court Tavern for the last time. Albert has yet to spell out exactly why he closed up shop, but the historic venue has not opened for business since.
Once part of a thriving underground music scene in New Brunswick, the Court Tavern became one-of-a-kind as other clubs in the city shut down. Venues like the Roxy, Budapest, Patrixx, and The Melody Bar each closed their doors years ago.
In 2001, when the city attempted to declare the beloved Court a blighted area in need of redevelopment, which would enable the city to take the property by eminent domain, tremendous opposition motivated the highest turnout in recent memory to a City Council meeting. The Council relented, and allowed the tavern to stay.
It must have felt like deja vu for Bobby Albert, because the Court Tavern was knocked down in the 1970’s to build the Ferren Parking Deck before the family re-located across the intersection to its current location at 124 Church St.
A private developer eventually built a 21-story condominium complex with an enormous 6-story parking deck right next the two-story tavern. The bar is now surrounded on three sides by parking garages. Additionally, the construction of the parking deck necesitated scaffolding outside the tavern that hurt business significantly.
But the bar has survived so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles to remain open, which is partly why the closure came as such a surprise.
Just two years ago, the tavern was poised to shut down due to unpaid taxes and water bills owed to the city. But, about 20 generous benefactors came forward with thousands of dollars in loans which were re-paid with the proceeds of a benefit concert hosted at the State Theatre.
That concert was headlined by the legendary Patti Smith & The Smithereens, one of countless famous artists to either get their start at the Court Tavern or pass through on tour. New Brunswick-based bands including the Bouncing Souls, the Gaslight Anthem, Thursday, Midtown, and the Screaming Females have all played at the Court Tavern.
Just last month, several well-known bands performed at a benefit show at Sayreville’s Starland Ballroom on Friday evening, giving one dollar for every ticket sold to the tavern. Saves The Day, from Princeton, headlined the show, joined by Senses Fail, Balance and Composure, and Banquets.
The Court Tavern was one of the last surviving venues in New Brunswick with a cabaret license, which enables the establishment to host live bands with limited restrictions.
Asbury Park, NJ has become a destination for live music in recent years, in much the same way New Brunswick was in the 1980’s and 90’s.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.