End of An Era: The Final Years of New Brunswick’s Melody Bar

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Part three of New Brunswick Today’s look back at the Melody Bar examines the bar’s final chapter, from 2000 to 2004.

In part one of this series, New Brunswick’s Home News Tribune insider coverage from 1981-1989 articulated how the vibrant French Street bar played a significant role in lifting the city from its 1970’s doldrums.

The Hub City music scene rediscovered its rock’n’roll roots again from 1990-1999, after a minor decline in the late 80’s., all of it covered in part two of this series.

A significant factor in that 80’s rock dip was the drinking age rising from 18 to 21 in 1983, which changed the local bar landscape here in the Hub City.

Then in 1995, the city instituted a change to the operating hours of bars and put restrictions on “Teen Nights.” 

With closing times rolled back from 3 am to 2 am, some bar bottom lines were hit by as much as 15-20%. 

Additional city ordinances were introduced that targeted the viability of the clubs to make a buck. By 2000, the Melody’s best days were behind it. Nevertheless, its abrupt erasure would shock its patrons then – and still does.

Soon, the Melody Bar would become just another whisper of old New Brunswick, a “city of lost history.”

New Brunswick Today’s look back at news coverage of the Melody Bar resumes in August 2000, with the city council reviewing a new, stricter “cabaret” ordinance that would force bars to close at 12 a.m.

That means no music anywhere in the city after midnight, the time of night when many bands only start to perform.

As anyone with even a remote understanding of New Brunswick knows, the ordinance would effectively kill the city’s nightlife.

“For a city that supposedly supports the arts, they’ve given bars a hard time,” [Court Tavern owner Bob] Albert said. “There’s always been a vibrant scene in this town, but they don’t consider it art or a part of the arts, which I strongly disagree with.”

August 4, 2000 – “Let the music play – Club scene is integral to health of New Brunswick” by Chris Jordan, On the Road

Albert recalled life in the city before the music scene emerged in the early 1980’s. Music became New Brunswick’s main attraction, compelled most significantly by the Court Tavern and the Melody Bar.

There were few entertainment options in New Brunswick before then, and it was unsafe in many places at night.

“It’s a lot less boring in New Brunswick than it was 10 years ago,” poet Jack Wiler told a Home News Reporter inside the Melody Bar in 1983. “It used to be that in New Brunswick no one did anything. But about two years ago there were people on the street at night, music, art and an explosion of talent that wasn’t there before.”

In that wake came the fine dining and theater arts. The “cabaret” ordinance made clear which scene the city would support.

“Rock and roll is an ugly stepchild (to the arts),” Albert told Jordan. “The city has always had a kind of condescending view of this music scene for a long time.”

But rock fans aren’t the type to go quietly into the night. Outcry over the ordinance was fierce and immediate.

Steve Flaks, co-owner of the Melody Bar, organized a meeting of the New Brunswick Tavern Association, according to the article. Twin Home News editorials on August 20, 2000 (“New Brunswick needs its lively night life; new ordinance would stifle it” and “Clubs, musicians must be involved”) derided the proposal, and by September 1, 2000, the ordinance was tabled.

“They obviously don’t want to do [the midnight closings],” Flaks told Jordan on September 1, 2000. “There are a couple of bars that they’re having problems with, but the ordinance was like using a cannon to kill a mosquito. The city council wants to have a stick to control them, that’s my take.”

The Melody insisted it stood on firm ground as late as 2000, despite the vanishing landscape surrounding it, and with fewer patrons inside. “Rumors of the demise of the legendary Melody Bar in New Brunswick have been greatly exaggerated,” wrote Chris Jordan on December 22, 2000.

“A spokesperson for the ever-growing Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital said the hospital no longer has plans to purchase the club, which it had intended to demolish,” Jordan wrote.

“The hospital said that they no longer need us,” said Flaks. “We were in a kind of limbo for so long that the staff wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t sure, but now we know that we’re back on track.”

Speculation was that the Melody would either close or relocate once the hospital bought the French Street building. That’s understandable since buildings on the vibrant, multicultural block bought by the hospital have been disappearing for the last several years.

Expect two more to go. The buildings at 96 and 98 French Street (on your left when you face the Melody) that the hospital purchased will be demolished to make way for an expansion of the New Brunswick Parking Authority parking garage down the block, said the spokesperson for the hospital.

But what about the club? The Melody has seen a decrease in attendance for what are normally busy dance nights, like Thursdays, but still draws club goers for certain off-nights, like the 1980s Tuesday dance night.

“We’ve got to find some new DJs to get the crowd cooking,” Flaks said. “But we’re not going to vary the formula, it’s still going to be a dance club with cutting-edge music.”

December 22, 2000 – “Slaves to the holidays – New Brunswick band returns to bar where it all began” by Chris Jordan

On December 27, Polansky’s Greeting Cards, at 102 French Street a longtime neighbor of the Melody, described the New Brunswick Parking Authority’s tactics that expelled them from the building they’d owned for half a century, to make way for a parking deck.

The old 100 block of French Street. The Melody is second from right, as captured by photographer George Red Ellis.

[Frank E.] Polansky must be out of his French Street store by Jan. 31 after the New Brunswick Parking Authority acquired the property by eminent domain…

Originally, the Parking Authority wanted Polansky out by Sunday [December 31] but he pleaded to stay through the holidays because he had purchased all his Christmas merchandise seven months ago…

Polansky is upset with the $225,000 offered for his property, saying he researched the assessed value and sales price of other nearby buildings. He wanted to fight the acquisition but decided it was not worth the attorney fees.

“This eminent domain is just plain communism,” said Polansky. “If you don’t agree to it, they just throw you right out.”

The Polansky family has owned the building for 51 years.

Robert Wood Johnson also tried to buy the Melody Bar but has said it no longer plans to purchase the property.

December 27, 2000 – “Store to send final greeting – Owner squeezed out by parking-deck expansion” by Sharon Waters

The uneasiness in the city led Chris Jordan to wonder, “What happened to the music, man?” in his end of year review.

He described the happenings in nearby Sayreville – drug raids at its “Big Three” night clubs: Club Bene, Club Abyss and Hunka Bunka, as revoked liquor licenses and police intimidation incidents at hip hop shows there dominated local headlines.

“On several fronts,” Jordan wrote, “fans’ rights to enjoy music was assailed in 2000.”

The New Brunswick “cabaret” ordinance was recounted as a game of chicken between the city council and club owners, and though it was tabled amid the public uproar, the saga “left clubgoers and tavern owners leary about future ordinances.”

It was the kind of mess that perhaps only a future Senator Pat DiNizio could restore order to.

With all this action happening on the political front, it seemed appropriate the Smithereens frontman Pat DiNizio should run for the U.S. Senate… DiNizio received about 19,000 votes – think of what that means to Al Gore – and now looks forward to future candidacies.

December 29, 2000 – “Politics of dancing – The year 2000 was not a happy time in Clubland” by Chris Jordan

The late DiNizio, the Plainfield-born singer and guitarist from New Brunswick’s leading 1980’s rock group The Smithereens, passed away in December 2017, at 62 years old.

Back in 2001, a case of deja vu signaled further disruption to the Central Jersey bar scene, when the Sayreville Borough Council scheduled a January vote to enact a bar-closing ordinance from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m., just as New Brunswick had done in 1995.

“I’m sure Sayreville (bar owners) reaped a lot of the benefits (when New Brunswick’s bars closed earlier),” Steve Flaks told Home News reporter Jennifer Micale. “They have a tough road ahead.”

March 22, 2001

That’s it on Melody Bar news in the local paper, save for a handful of show listings in its On The Go section, until the curtain fell two months later on March 22, 2001.

Revelers may have been gearing up for another Melody Bar anniversary party, its 20th, as they’d done many times over since owners Steve Flaks and Cal Levine took over in March 1981.

Instead, the Melody’s bitter end came without warning, without farewell. It was so abrupt that a show listing appeared in the paper days after it closed.

“The Melody Bar, New Brunswick’s famous nightspot, has closed,” Chris Jordan’s front page article began on Thursday, March 22.

The club was dark Tuesday – one of the venue’s most popular dance nights – while fans milled in front of its 106 French St. entrance.

“We’re closed,” said co-owner Steve Flaks yesterday. “We are closed for now – that’s it.”

The club was last open on Saturday. There was no farewell night or celebration for the club, which has been presenting alternative rock and dance music for 20 years. It’s 20th anniversary would have been this month…

“The club has not been bought and it’s not been sold,” said Flaks, before refusing further comment.

Sources close to the club indicate that Flaks, of North Brunswick, wanted to keep the club open, while his partner Cal Levine of New Brunswick wanted it closed.

Numerous telephone calls to Levine were not returned, and employees of the club spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

Thursday, March 22, 2001 – “Melody Bar silenced indefinitely” by Chris Jordan

It was front page news again on Friday, March 23, this time accompanied by Jason Towlen’s infamous chained front door photo. Jordan’s reporting uncovered the root of the dispute between its two owners. At odds, they both shared one sentiment together at least: “Who knows?”

The Melody Bar will remain closed until someone buys it, said co-owner Steve Flaks yesterday.

The popular New Brunswick nightspot with the national reputation for cutting-edge music was last open on Sunday morning. Fans arriving Tuesday night were met by a closed club and sign stating: “The Melody Bar will be closed for business until further notice.”

The Melody was closed after co-owner Cal Levine refused to renew insurance for the club, Flaks said.

When asked if this was the case, Levine said, “Steve handles all the business, the hiring and the firing.”

“I’m not actively involved in the business anymore,” Levine, 49, said.

Flaks, 49, said that the possibility of his entering a partnership with someone new and reopening the clubs was remote.

“If it was an old manager (of the club), sure, but that’s not very likely…

“In all likelihood it will be sold outright,” Flaks said. “Who knows, maybe the people who buy it will keep me in an advisory capacity. I certainly would be willing.”

Levine, who lives in Bedminster, was ambiguous when asked about the future of the club.

“Who knows, maybe it’ll be open in a few weeks,” Levine said…

March 23, 2001 – “Melody’s future remains unknown” by Chris Jordan

Flaks and Melody regular Frank Gibson foreshadowed the lengthy afterlife of the little French Street club, which from the 1940’s through 1980 was a nicotine-stained old man’s bar in the Hub’s Hungarian district, further along in the article.

Flaks was taken aback yesterday by the outpouring of sentiment yesterday as news of the club’s closing spread throughout the state’s – and the country’s – club-going community.

“I had a couple people drop by and it’s like they lost a friend,” said Flaks of North Brunswick. “We’ve had people get married in that place – it’s kind of emotional.”

The closing was the buzz of Internet message boards, including Melody’s at www.melodybar.com.

“The Melody is an institution,” said Frank Gibson, 36, of South Brunswick. “The Melody is not just another bar, it was a very special place and emphasized good people and good music.

“It was the only socially integrated bar in town,” Gibson said. “It was a place where anyone and everyone instantly felt comfortable…”

“We just wanted people who enjoyed music and loved art and loved people to come here,” Flaks said. “We envisioned this to be a place where you could come, love life, be happy and enjoy yourself and respect people for what they are. Hopefully, that legacy will continue.”

March 23, 2001 – “Melody’s future remains unknown” by Chris Jordan

Annual Melody Bar reunions, as described in this Asbury Park Press article by Chris Jordan, now an entertainment and features writer for that paper, would commence a few years after its closing.

The most recent in-person reunion, the 14th, was held on February 28th, 2020.

Former Melody Bar DJ Matt Pinfield, now living in Los Angeles, was frequently a guest of honor at the reunions, but did not attend this last one due to a medical issue.

In 2018 Pinfield suffered major injuries when being struck on foot by a car traveling 40 mph. He’s since committed himself to fitness and recently celebrated one year of sobriety, in May 2021. He remains as active as ever in the music world.

“I have two goals,” Pinfield told Rolling Stone magazine in July 2020. “First, continue to do what I love to do, and that’s to educate and entertain people about music. Do interviews and do the things that I’ve always loved to do… And secondly, to help other alcoholics and addicts who need help. That’s my goal, is to be of service and let people know they are not alone.”

This show listing appeared in the paper on Friday, March 23, days after the Melody closed.

Legacy notwithstanding, in 2001 there was suddenly a void on French Street where live music once rocked back and forth, at the Melody and directly across French Street at the Roxy. The Roxy had closed in 1995.

On the March 24 Home News Tribune’s opinion page, publisher Robert T. Collins and editors Richard A. Hughes, Charles Paolino and Philip Hartman added their own epigraph for the club, concluding with a refrain which has been said often in the Hub City over the years: “Funky little spots like the Melody make New Brunswick unique. This one will be missed.”

Whether under pressure from the hospital, the parking authority, pervasive development, city nightlife ordinances or all the above, the business of running the Melody at 106 French Street had become untenable.

The 20-year run of the Melody as an alternative rock club came to an end last week because of a dispute between the two owners.

“It didn’t seem real,” said disc jockey Jim Dunlap. “It was shocking.”

The bad vibes between the owners came to a head when co-owner Cal Levine of Bedminster refused to renew the insurance for the club, said co-owner Steve Flaks of North Brunswick…

It had been rumored for years that the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital would eventually buy the club. Speculation was fueled when buildings near its 106 French St. address were bought by the hospital and subsequently demolished. Indeed, the hospital had been trying to buy the club for years. But when the offer was taken off the table late last year, the Melody seemed to have a new lease on life.

That is, until the club suddenly closed, with no fanfare and no one-last send off.

“It’s almost like a rejected soap opera script,” Dunlap said. “The whole thing strikes me as very bizarre.”

April 1, 2001 – “Thanks for the memories – Closing of New Brunswick club leaves music fans nostalgic” by Chris Jordan

Though there was no last call at the Melody, there was also little time to mourn – only to mobilize, as within days of the Melody’s closing, the city opened up another battlefront, this time against the Court Tavern.

They have rules in the sport of boxing where one fighter can’t hit the other when they’re down or once the bell rings. But like in Tyson-Holyfield, the City Council was back for another bite.

The New Brunswick music community reacted in shock and disbelief yesterday to the news that the city’s Court Tavern could be facing the wrecking ball.

Re-development of the area around Church and Spring streets could force owner Bob Albert Jr. to sell his Church Street club.

“It would be a huge blow to New Brunswick’s music scene, especially in light of the recent closing of the Melody (Bar),” said musician and promoter Mike Doktorski of East Brunswick…

The Court Tavern’s closing would be a sign that the city’s music scene is waning.

“It’s not looking good,” said musician Brett Neilley of Highland Park. “(The city fathers) don’t recognize the importance of the live-music scene. They talk about revitalization and how the State Theatre puts them on the map, but there’s a lot of great stuff going on that doesn’t get their attention.”

April 5, 2001 – “City’s night spot readies swan song” by Chris Jordan

A group of activists spoke up in defense of Albert’s position at a council meeting later in April; the Court Tavern’s fate would be determined in October.

The sudden one-two on the music scene drew the Home News editorial board into the fray again on April 7, 2001, in support of the old over something new.

The “old” were the inexpensive, many would say charming, establishments that served the music scene – record stores like Cheap Thrills and Tunes, and skate-shop Earth Core, which had all fallen in recent years.

“Last month it was the funky alternative rock club the Melody Bar. Now the Court Tavern could be on the list,” the board wrote.

The “new” were the parade of parking decks, office towers and hospital buildings springing up everywhere.

“The [Court Tavern] plan is typical,” the editorial continued, “Of what’s eating at several of New Brunswick’s older neighborhoods near the city’s center: Modern development ushered in by City Hall is pushing out private homes and small businesses. Another example is the expansion of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital beyond its hospital zone, threatening land owned by residents and private businesses in the French Street area.”

The Home News’ Sarah Needleman wondered just what was coming in to replace the city’s local, independent institutions.

These were all fantastic places, and, for one reason or another, they are gone. In their place, more conservative businesses that cater to whom?

Most importantly, they were small businesses. When these stores closed, jobs were lost and families were affected…

Just a bit farther uptown, the Monument Square Hotel is ready for demolition. People who have lived there for decades are being forced to move out… Thanks to DevCo we have a Radio Shack and two fancy restaurants where a mom-and-pop clothing store used to sit.

With all of this moving and building and pushing and closing, what will become of Hub City? And who are all of these changes really benefiting? Jobs have been lost and families have been moved, with nothing to show for it but empty buildings, parking lots and a ton of office space.

April 9, 2001 – “Keep the ‘Court’ in session” editorial by Sarah Needleman, Home News Tribune page designer

Flash forward 20 years, and one wonders what was accomplished. “When I drive through New Brunswick now, I can’t even find my way around the place,” musician Mike Nagy told this newspaper in April. “Everything is so different.”

It wasn’t just local musicians or historians left swimming around the wreckage.

Frustration with the methods and manners employed by the city’s undertakers was spread evenly about, and few were immune. “It seems that one by one New Brunswick institutions are in the crosshairs of developers,” wrote Chris Jordan of the hospital in a June 2001 article sarcastically subtitled “Good Neighbors.”

First, it was the Melody Bar, then it was the Court Tavern. Now, it’s the Hungarian-American Athletic Club on Somerset Street.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, ever the gracious neighbor, has its eye on the club, which has stood on the property in one form or another since 1913. A spokeswoman said the hospital has interest in buying it, but assured the club that there was no time pressure.

(Speaking of RWJUH, it was odd that there weren’t any booths providing information regarding its community outreach programs at the recent Hungarian Festival on Somerset Street, right next to the hospital. Guess they’re so busy deciding what building should be demolished next that they just plain forgot about the festival.)

June 15, 2001 – “Lloyd void” by Chris Jordan

By late July, the Melody diaspora was only beginning to grapple with the void left behind in its closing.

When a disc jockey from the now-closed New Brunswick club spun records at the Polo Pub in Highland Park after the Melody’s closing in March, [filmmaker Rob] Bertrand’s thoughts were elsewhere.

“I sat there at the bar that night in Highland Park, and I was thinking that I want this so badly to be like it was at the Melody but it was not, and it’ll probably never be (that way) again,” Bertrand said…

“Tuesday night had such incredible energy and magic,” Bertrand said. “The place was always packed and people would dress up… There were so many happy people together in one room – so many smiles and so many embraces.”

July 27, 2001 – “New Brunswick filmmaker Rob Bertrand still hears the music” by Chris Jordan

Six months after the Melody closed, and despite hopeful comments from Steve Flaks to reporters that bar alumni or similar partners might take it on, front page news on September 7, 2001 confirmed the inevitable: the Melody would join together with the rest of the once vibrant French Street block in being taken over by the parking authority or hospital.

Demolition was said to be imminent, but that saga would unfold at its own tortured pace.

The legendary Melody Bar on French Street has been sold to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and will most likely be demolished…

The sale closed on July 24, according to hospital spokeswoman Laurie Miller, who would not divulge the purchase price. The hospital would not discuss what it may do with the property.

“No plans have been finalized for the use of the building at this point. There’s no plans for it at this point,” Miller said.

But Mayor Jim Cahill gave indications that demolition of the Melody Bar building was imminent…

September 7, 2001 – “Hospital buys Melody Bar” by Chris Jordan and Sharon Waters

That’s the same Mayor James M. Cahill of New Brunswick today; his active tenure now spans thirty years, dating back to 1991.

August 17, 1981 – “Steve Flaks, co-owner of the Melody Bar, serves his partner, Cal Levine”

With some closure at hand for its owners, Flaks’ reflections on how it ended six months earlier was an overture to the peculiar bonds that continue today among its former patrons, through reunions, friendships and Facebook groups.

“The hard part was telling the staff that it was closed last March,” Flaks said in the article. “It was the people who made the place – it’s always made for great memories.”

Among the owners themselves, Flaks and Levine hadn’t spoken for months by the time of the sale, the paper reported. It was conducted through their lawyers.

“It’s been 20 good years but it’s time to move on,” Flaks told the Home News.

This echoed comments Flaks made to the paper in 1981, in its first profile of the new Melody Bar.

Flaks says that in becoming a part owner of what has blossomed into the most talked-about nightspot in the city, he answered two personal needs. One was an urgency to remove himself from the rat race of his job in Manhattan, the other was a sense that the next phase of his working life was coming overdue.

“I always admired people who changed careers in midstream,” said the 30-year-old native of The Bronx. “There’s no reason why people should have to work at the same kind of job all their lives. Nowadays people are thinking in terms of three or four careers. For me, this is just one more challenge in life.”

Flaks’ career-hopping began soon after he earned his college degree in oceanography. “I gave it up,” he said, “because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a lab counting grains of sand.”

August 17, 1981 – “Owners new to business put new beat into bar” by John T. Ward, Home News staff writer

In October, a victory finally landed for the Hub City music scene, when organizing efforts to save the Court Tavern six months earlier were realized. The hundreds-strong advocacy group, which included members of rock bands Styx and the Patti Smith Group, had filled the New Brunswick City Council chambers, hallway and stairs to speak up in support of Court Tavern owner Bobby Albert Jr.

The turnout compelled the city council to vote against the ordinance, and the Court Tavern would not become a parking lot. “I got a little choked up,” Albert Jr. told Chris Jordan. “I didn’t expect that many to show.”

October 19, 2001

A big party was planned to celebrate the occasion – a couple “local legends” would perform over the weekend, and a “roll back the clock” night featured a decades-old food menu board with original prices – hamburgers for 45 cents, hot dogs for a quarter and an “American cheese sandwich” for 60 cents.

Those prices hearkened back to a different city than the one that was being prospected all around. Alas, no amount of cheese could roll the clock back on some of New Brunswick’s forgotten prizes, be they grand like the art-deco Monument Park Hotel of 10 Livingston Avenue, once “the symbol of achievement in New Brunswick in the ’20s” and demolished in 2002, or gritty like the Mel, gathering dust on French Street.

Local historians like New Brunswick Historical Association member Morris Kafka, and music scenesters alike both lamented these changes to the city in this article from July 2002, 16 months after the Melody closed.

While the [Monument Park Hotel]’s architecture was grand, the former Melody Bar on French Street could boast no such claims. But the closed club has deep significance for some residents and local musicians, who believe city leaders don’t recognize the importance of preserving New Brunswick’s live-music scene…

Last year the bar was sold to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. Redevelopment didn’t directly force the club’s owners to sell, but the hospital had pursued the site for years as it purchased surrounding land.

Rob Bertrand, a 6-year city resident, said he knows people who moved to New Brunswick for its music scene but left because the cultural climate changed as more music was offered at restaurants.

“The music community and grassroots cultural community is slowly falling apart. There just aren’t the venues there to anchor it today,” said Bertrand.

July 30, 2002 – “Some history and culture lost during redevelopment” by Sharon Waters
January 10, 2003

On January 8 2003, a front page report said the city would purchase the Melody Bar property from the hospital and then expand the Health Sciences Technology High School.

“City’s science H.S. expanding; Former Melody Bar to go,” the headline read, and the article noted briefly how “the club became an integral part of the city’s cultural revival… its reputation for cutting-edge music spread as far as Europe,” before turning to the school matter.

On January 11, the editorial board said “the Melody Bar was part of the city’s charm – a charm that’s vanishing much too quickly,” a sentiment shared widely among the music scene.

Metuchen-raised Ken Palko, 33, was warned not to see the building that once housed the Melody Bar at 106 French St. in New Brunswick.

Palko, who now lives in Minnesota, was told that the location was a shell of its former, neon-adorned self. But when news spread earlier this week of plans for its demolition, Palko couldn’t resist.

“I had to see it one final time,” said Palko, who started going to the internationally known alternative-rock club in 1991. “I gave it a kiss.”

Such has been the sentiment of former attendees and those associated with the Melody Bar upon hearing of its imminent demolition…

Many members of the New Brunswick music scene said they feel that the demise of the club has diminished the city’s arts and cultural vibrancy.

January 10, 2003 – “BUILDING TO BE DEMOLISHED – Former regulars of Melody Bar recall alternative times” by Chris Jordan

With its demolition imminent, the Home News began soliciting reader tributes to the fading bar. The tribute, featuring letters and photos submitted by fans, was published in March; selections are included below. 

January 10, 2003

The way I remember The Melody, it seems less of a “bar,” but more of a “clubhouse,” where everybody was friends and respected each other’s differences. You just felt like you “belonged” when you were there, you were part of something great. You almost knew in the back of your mind, as you stood in the center of the thumping bass downstairs and the stinging crush of guitars upstairs, that you were never going to have nights like these EVER again. – Ken Heim, North Jersey…

After a few drinks, that I would get two at a time because trying to get to the bar after 11 was a real challenge, the music would take me over, and the crowd on the dance floor would consume me. Even on the coldest winter nights of winter, we would all come out of there soaked from sweat. – Bob Schuster, New Brunswick…

Although I have many memories of good times at The Melody, only one event sticks out. On Feb. 3, 1983, as I sat alone sipping a cocktail in a half-empty bar, I spied an attractive young lady enter and make her way around the bar towards me. We had an interesting conversation and as it turns out, we are still having these conversations 20 years and two sons later! – Robert J. Anderson, Somerset…

Like the hub of Grand Central Station, The Melody never tired. It moved with life… The bar was a place to be free and roam through the darkness in yourself. A place to be inspired to write, to play, to paint, or simply to have a cold one – Stephen Roberts, Metuchen…

While sitting at the bar, a guy sitting next to me who ordered the wrong type of beer for his friend, turned to us to see if we wanted to keep it from going to waste. After a couple of attempts to decline his offer, we started to talk a bit. Shortly after, a reporter from the Home News approached us to do a story he was doing on The Melody. He asked us if we were married, which made us laugh. I mentioned to the reporter that we had just met, and he said he was sorry for the mistake, but could he take our picture for the paper.

Reluctantly, we agreed, and he posed us in the doorway.

That night, Spiro asked my friends and me to meet him and his friend back there a few days later, which we agreed to do. We went on a couple of dates after that and then one day a friend of mine called to say that our picture was in the newspaper. Although we thought it was neat, we didn’t think much of it at the time, since we were still just getting to know each other.

Well, 17 years later, Spiro and I have been (very happily) married for 15 years….

I’ve always said that I should go back and find the article of the day we met, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. – Terry Mitrou (formerly Nuzzo), Ocean Township

March 16, 2003 – “Thanks for the Melodies – Readers fondly remember The Melody Bar, the former New Brunswick club now slated for demolition, in words, photos and song” by Chris Jordan

The Melody was still standing in November 2003 as one of its legacy bands, the Slaves of New Brunswick, performed its annual Thanksgiving show at the Court Tavern. The group’s first gigs in 1989 were held upstairs at the Melody and helped restore a rock presence to the scene after the mid-decade lull.

Sharing the bill with them that November 2003 night was another Hub City 1980’s throwback, The Boogles.

“I get quite sentimental about New Brunswick,” Tony Shanahan of the Slaves told Chris Jordan. “It’s a lot different now, but that’s not to say I don’t have fun when I come to the city.”

Different because the number of venues, such as the former Melody Bar on French Street, which feature live, original music, have been greatly reduced over the years.

“(City officials) talk about the New Brunswick Cultural Center, but they (in 2001) wanted to tear down the Court Tavern,” said Shanahan, referring to the fabled city venue. “To me, that’s the cultural center of the city, and it’s been that way for many years.”

November 21, 2003 – “Slaves to the city – New Brunswick group returns to Hub City after three-year hiatus” by Chris Jordan

In early January 2004, without any more advanced notice than the prior January’s designation that it was imminent, the Melody was demolished. The timing even caught the excited schools superintendent by surprise.

The site of the Melody today

The former Melody Bar, a local live-music landmark, was unceremoniously razed last week as part of a plan to expand the adjacent science high school.

Demolition of the French Street club, which has been closed since 2001, began Jan. 5 and was completed Wednesday, said city spokesman Michael Drulis…

The Melody Bar’s demolition was expected since former owners Steve Flaks and Cal Levine sold the club to the hospital in July 2001 for $500,000.

But Superintendent of Schools Ronald F. Larkin was surprised yesterday to hear the bar had been recently razed.

“That’s great news,” said Larkin, noting plans for the school’s expansion had been dormant for a while. “We’ll put it on the front burner now.”

January 11, 2004 – Former tavern is razed by Sharon Waters

The final words on the subject belongs to the Home News’ Chris Jordan, and to musician Jigs Giglio, of Jigs & the Pigs and the Slaves of New Brunswick, who appears throughout this series in articles from 1982, 1986, 1990, 1999 and 2004.

Jigs Giglio was pacing back and forth in front of a hole in the ground in New Brunswick Jan 14.

“I was there for 10 minutes, just looking,” said Giglio of North Brunswick. “I picked up a couple of pieces of glass that were broken.”

Giglio, an area musician who has performed in New Brunswick since the early 1980s, was at the site of the former Melody Bar on French Street, which was unceremoniously demolished during the week of Jan. 5.

“I wanted to get a brick or something to take home,” Giglio said. “All that was left there was glass.”

January 13, 2004 – “The Melody fades into memory” – Sounding Off by Chris Jordan

As he’d done many times in his coverage of the music scene since 1995, reporter Chris Jordan trained his eye on the forces that compelled it out of the bars.

And while New Brunswick continues to enjoy a reputation for indie music, much of it now occurs underground at hidden locations and “showhouse” basements, for a somewhat exclusive audience.

Addresses to showhouses like the Bomb Shelter and the Roach Motel are closely held, available only through direct messages or by discretely “asking a punk” in the know, lest it be received by someone interested in dispersing it.

Jordan’s final call for vigilance remains true in the scene today.

…The off-handed way of [the Melody’s] destruction, and the way city authorities viewed the demolition, didn’t befit the building’s cultural significance to thousands of music fans who remembered – albeit a little fuzzily – the Mel.

Two years ago, Mayor James Cahill told a Home News Tribune editorial board meeting that the Melody was demolished. That was news to the board and anyone who had recently driven down French Street. Apparently, the Mayor was eager to see it go.

When it was actually demolished, the beneficiary of the action was not aware that it was gone. New Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Ronald F. Larkin, who will oversee that expansion of the high school, reacted to the news of the demolition with surprise when contacted by a reporter.

Just makes one wonder who’s at the controls.

Whoever it is, in New Brunswick, they usually don’t consider the historic or cultural significance of a building before they let the wrecking ball rip. The city is infamous for laying waste to its history.

Author Timothy E. Regan called New Brunswick a “city of lost history” in his picture book, “Images of America: New Brunswick.” In the late 1970s, then-Mayor John Lynch, the shadowy figure many say still is pulling New Brunswick’s strings, took the extraordinary step of going to Washington to argue for the removal of the U.S. historical designation for the Hiram Market so the Hyatt could be built near the Raritan River.

Over the years, New Brunswick’s wrecking ball has been especially attuned to finding the city’s performance venues and cultural spots. The Strand Theatre on the corner of George and Albany streets and the Bijou Theatre on Albany were razed in 1965. The RKO Theatre on Albany, called an Art Deco masterpiece by Regan, was demolished in 1972.

The humble Court Tavern on Church Street, where live music drew people back into the once desolated city in the 1980s, faced the wrecking ball recently, but thanks to hundreds of supporters who showed up at a pivotal city council meeting, it got a reprieve.

But, certainly, those who care about history and culture must be ever vigilant.

January 13, 2004 – “The Melody fades into memory” – Sounding Off by Chris Jordan

Editor’s Note: This is part three of a three part series. Parts one and two cover the 1980’s and 1990’s Melody scene.

 

Music Reporter at New Brunswick Today | bkelly@nb.today

Ben Kelly is reporting on the music scene for New Brunswick.