Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tony Marts Reunion 2008

http://news.shorenewsnow.com/2008/06/17/more-than-25-years-after-last-call-nostalgia-for-tony-marts-lives-on.aspx

TONY MARTS REUNION 2008

Sunday - June 22nd 4 - 8 pm

American Legion Post #352
1st and Pennsylvania Aves.
Somers Point, N.J.

609 653-6069

Billy Walton
Jacque Major
Dr. Bobby Fingers
The Mainline Horns

Follow the Arrow to Tony Marts.

The Current, Wednesday, June 18, 2008:

http://shorenewstoday.com/nls/

TONY MARTS Yesterday and Today – By William Kelly

For over forty years Tony Mart’s giant neon arrow on the roof guided you from the Somers Point circle to Bay Avenue, where Tony Marts was the centerpiece of a small strip of nightclubs where early rock & roll history was made. Now, there’s only an historic marker to memorialize they were even there.

Today, the building at the site of the legendary Tony Marts nightclub sits barren, empty, boarded up and overgrown with weeds, with no real development plans on the horizon.

But at one time, for decades (from 1944 to 1982) it was one of the hottest nightclubs on the East Coast featuring major recording stars and rock & roll bands on two stages, six bars, two dance floors and a line to get in.

It’s been a quarter of a century now since they filmed the movie "Eddie & the Cruisers," held a Last Hurrah party, and then demolished the place, but people just won’t let the good times go.

The trip from then to now was fun for most of those who were there, and the uncertainty of the present situation doesn’t detract from the history of all the good times, which will be celebrated at a Tony Marts Reunion this Sunday afternoon (from 4pm) at the Somers Point American Legion with live entertainment, dancing, good food and t-shirts.

There have been other Tony Mart reunions every few years, the first in June 1986 at Egos, the club that replaced Tony Marts, which featured The Band, who played at Tony Marts in the summer of 1965 as Levon & the Hawks. A ten year reunion was held at Omar’s in Margate, and last September they celebrated the Twenty fifth anniversary of the filming of "Eddie & the Cruisers" at Stumpo’s. "I knew we were going to have a reunion, but I just realized it was 25 years," Tony’s son Carmen Marotta said at the party.

In the last few summers at Tony Mart’s, Carmen would often set up a barbeque pit in the parking lot in the afternoon and share ribs and pork sandwiches with friends and passersby. That’s what this reunion will be like, with locally renowned chef Richard Spurlock, whose father ran the Bay Avenue barber shop, cooking up the grubs.

Although the music will be provided by bands that never played Tony Marts, Billy Walton, Jacque Major, Bobby Fingers and the Mainland Horns certainly exemplify the type of music that they featured at Tony Marts for over forty years.

Billy Walton is one of the hottest young guitarists playing today, and recently opened for Jacque Major at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Bobby Fingers is the best sing-a-long piano player in these parts, and the Mainline Horns will certainly round out the proceedings.

"Tony Mart’s is remembered and is famous for "rock & roll," said Carmen, "but actually a broad spectrum of music was played there – big band swing, Dixieland jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock & roll."

For Carmen, who grew up at Tony Mart’s, his earliest memories, "are running around there as a child, playing with the bouncers and musicians, eating cherries, drinking cokes and just being there. I can recall things from 1961 or 1962, when I was about five or six years old. I remember the Fall Guys playing ‘Alabama Jubilee’ and ‘Tiger Rag,’ and doing the Sunday night Showtime, when they would do a Dixieland Southern type of show, dance on the bar and play ‘When the Saints Come Marching In,’ in sort of a mummers kind of way."

While the memories of Tony Marts are still strong, and all of the old nightclubs are gone, the music remains. Carmen, as a member of the city’s cultural commission, helps book the acts for the Friday night beach concerts and Good Old Days picnic, which continue the popular Tony Marts musical traditions.

Tony Mart’s Reunion. Sunday, June 22, 4-8pm, American Legion Post $352, 1st and Pennsylvania Avenue, Somers Point, N.J. For tickets or more info call: 609 653-6069.

More to come on this one.

In the meantime, here's some links:

Somers Point: When Music Was King by Geoff Douglas:
http://athepoint.blogspot.com/

Billy Walton:
http://www.billywaltonband.com/shows.html

Bobby Fingers
http://www.bobbyfingers.com/

Garth
http://www.garthhudson.com/

YouTube Video Clip of Sept. 2007 Tony Mart Reunion at Stumpo's featuring Jeff Schwachter
http://www.truveo.com/Atlantic-City-Weekly/id/4056496701

ACW Article by Jeff from 2005 - Anniversary of Levon & Hawks at Tony Marts
http://www.acweekly.com/view.php?id=3207


Kit Kats Recall their gig at Tony Marts
http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:BvJlu2r4sGQJ:www.spectropop.com/KitKats/+Tony+Marts+Reunion&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=70&gl=us

Bill Donoghue reviews Eddie & Cruisers Movie
http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:MTeRzs71UdYJ:www.amazon.ca/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A24SCQDYI50MWR%3Fie%3DUTF8%26sort_by%3DMostRecentReview+Tony+Marts+Reunion&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=59&gl=us


Bill Sokolic's recent CP story that mentions Tony Marts
http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080605/LIFE06/806050315


Eddie & the Cruisers Synopsis and Fan Comments
http://us.vdc.imdb.com/title/tt0085475/usercomments?start=32

Eddie & the Cruisers Info
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~pardos/EddieMain.html

Photo of Egos/Club Ice
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~pardos/TonyMart2.html

Looking back at a legendary South Jersey club Tony Mart’s

(The SandPaper, Friday, May 28, 1999)


By Bill Kelly

At one time there was a nightclub at the South Jersey Shore called Tony Mart’s.

Just off the circle in Somers Point, Tony Marts was known as "the Showplace of the World" and a Mecca of rock & roll. It was a place where early rock music germinated, legendary entertainers performed before they were famous, and where even today, its memory is still etched in the minds of everyone who was there.

While rumors of a sale of the Tony Marts’s liquor license and a possible change of ownership of the site has revived memories of the old place, the spirit of Tony Marts has been resurrected in New Orleans with the opening of "Levon Helm’s Classic American Café."

A French Quarter bar, restaurant and cabaret legally chartered as "Tony Marts Orleans," Levon’s Classic American Café was established by Carmen Marotta, whose father began the original Tony Marts.

For over 40 years Tony Mart’s giant neon arrow on the roof guided you from the Somers Point circle to Bay Avenue, where Tony Marts was the centerpiece of a small strip of nightclubs that mainly catered to the tourists and college kids that seasonally flocked to Somers Point from dry Ocean City, on the other side of the bay.

There were other clubs on the circle and down the street with equal claim to fame – Bayshores, the Gateway Casino, the Under 21 Club, Longo’s, Your Father’s Mustache, Steel’s Ship Bar, Ziggie’s, the Jolly Roger, the Med and the Anchorage. But Tony Mart’s stool out as being the marquee attraction, the one with the biggest newspaper adds, the biggest neon sign, the brightest lights, the most bars, the biggest stage, the cheapest drinks and the best bands.

Anyone who was there through four decades, until the last night, Tuesday, September 14, 1982, can attest to the veracity of some of the legends and a few of the myths.

It was in the quest of one of the myths that led me there, fresh out of college in the early 1970s to try to determine the truth of the story that the rock group known as The Band had played Tony Marts in the days before they became famous.

Although new to journalism, I was not new to Tony Marts and knew the doorman. Above the door there was a sign that read: THROUGH THESE DOORS WALK THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRLS IN THE WORLD.

"Doobie" Doberson, with his moptop hair and easy grin, worked behind the little round bar by the door, while Anthony Marotta sat at the little corner sidebar, by the door, against the wall, facing the stage.

I sat down next to Tony, introduced myself and shook his hand. I sipped a bottle of beer while he smoked a cigar and listened to the rock band on the stage. Between songs, I asked Tony if he remembered a group called The Band.

"The Band!" Tony exclaimed, blowing a puff of smoke, "You mean Levon and the Hawks. The bums. Yea, I remember The Band. They left me without a band on the busiest weekend of the summer. Levon and the Hawks, the bums."

Tony Marotta kept his conversations down to brief staccato clips, spoken in a very distinctive deep, gravely voice and is still reverently referred to by many generations of entertainers as "The Boss."

Whenever quoting him directly, they naturally revert to a precise intonation of the unique reflection of his voice, saying something typically Tony like, "Stay away from them grils in the kitchen," or "You bums is fired. Get the hell out of here."

To be honest and blunt was just one of Tony Marotta’s attributes, which served him well in the entertainment industry. It was also his nature to be fair and compassionate, and after brief reflection, Tony added, "But the Hawks," puff, puff, puff, "They were gentlemen and good boys. They were the last of the gentlemen. From then on they was all animals. It’s all in the book."

The book?

The book, said Tony, was a scrapbook that was kept in the back office. Tony instructed me to come back during the day and the day manager would show me the book. Tony then took another pull on his cigar and the band kicked in with another song.

Born in the town of Nasco in the province of Mesina in northern Sicily, Anthony Marotta came to Atlantic City because other natives of Naso had already settled there. In Atlantic City he met and married Mary Basile, also from Naso, and they began living the American Dream.

They opened a small luncheonette on the Atlantic City Boardwalk at Columbia Avenue, which he called Tony Mart’s, where Tony made sandwiches while his wife Mary worked the counter. They say hot dogs were the best seller, though Mary’s brother Tony Basile opened another sandwich shop, the famous landmark White House Sub Shop, which could count the Beatles and Frank Sinatra among its patrons.

Anthony Marotta was a good businessman because by 1944 he sold enough hot dogs to buy the old Schick’s Hotel on Bay Avenue in Somers Point.

Schick’s had been a hotel and rathskeller for the previous half century, and had a colorful history of its own, but from then on it was Tony Mart’s.

Tony began renovations that would impress I with his own image and personality, and would ride the post World War II boom times into the 1950s, which spawned a generation of Baby Boomers that included his daughter Tina and sons Tony, Jr. and Carmen.

For a career that spanned a lifetime and a club that clocked 38 years, a review of the scrapbook, as Tony suggested, is the best way to chronicle the history of the place.

In its heyday, the book was kept on a shelf in the warehouse office behind the club, where among the stacks of beer kegs and cases of liquor, the day manger ordered liquor and booked the bands.

Today the book is kept at the Marotta home on Bay Avenue, adjacent from where the club used to be. While all family scrapbooks contain pictures that cherish personal memories, Tony Mart’s scrapbook is one that has memories that can be shared with the thousands of people who met there, danced there and celebrated summers of lost youth.

When I first saw the scrapbook back in the mid-70s I was looking for The Band – Levon & the Hawks, who worked there as the house band for one summer a decade earlier. The book was full of newspaper clippings, club advertisements and an eight by ten black and white glossy promotional photos.

If arranged chronologically, one of the earliest newspaper advertisements promoting live entertainment at Tony Marts features Len Carey and the Krackerjacks, the one band that took Tony Mart’s from being a small piano bar to a big showplace club.

Len Carey was a protégé of Spike Jones, a famous bandleader of the Swing era who lasted into the 1950s and was known for his unique blend of music and comedy. Len Carey had played with and was inspired by Spike Jones, adopted his style and promoted it as "Jazzmania Smile," a schtick that would become a traditional Tony Marts mainstay for the house bands.

Although Len Carey and the Krackerjacks settled in for seven summers, and helped push Tony Mart’s into the realm of one of the most popular nightclubs on the East Coast, it was the headliners who garnered most of the attention. Besides the house bands, who played for most of the season for a set rate, the big name acts that were on tour were brought in to overtop them as the main act.

The financial figures reflect that in its heydays, as far as the gate went, Duane Eddie was Tony Mart’s best draw, and was paid $7,000, big bucks in those days, to work one week in 1964, and in that week, grossing more than any other entertainer who played Tony Marts.

"Tony Marts is remembered and is famous for rock & roll," says Tony’s son Carmen Marotta, "but actually a broad spectrum of music was played there – big band swing, Dixieland jazz, rhythm & blues and rock & roll."

"My earliest memories of the club," Carmen says, "are running around there as a child, playing with the bouncers, eating cherries and drinking cokes."

Carmen recalls when he was six years old and seeing the Fall Guys playing, "Alabama Jubilee" and "Tiger Rag," and doing the Sunday afternoon Showtime, when they did a Dixieland Mummers sting band type of show, dance on the bar and end up with the traditional, "When the Saints Come Marching In."

According to the scrapbook, The Skyliners played a number of gigs at Tony Mart’s, making their hit, "Pennies from Heaven" such a local favorite that it never left the jukeboxes of some local establishments.

Then there was JohnY Mastrangelo – aka Johnny Maestro and the Crests, who had the hit single, "Sixteen Candles." Maestro went on to work with the Brooklyn Bridge and record another hit, "The Worst that Could Happen," but only after being fired by Tony Marotta for being overly egotistical. For Tony, musicians might be artists, but they were still entertainers who were being paid, not to make up new songs, but to make patrons happy.

"The musicians are playing for themselves," he would say, meaning they were playing with an artistic slant, rather than for the crowd. He wanted to keep the room moving, with people drinking and dancing, and any band that would play to themselves were simply fired. And it wasn’t hard to get fired from Tony Mart’s. Some bands would be fired more than once, others wouldn’t get a second chance. Many of the bands that were fired would just walk across the street to Bayshores where they would usually find a gig.

They say Joey "D" and the Starlighters learned to rock & roll at Tony Marts before they put out "The Pepperment Twist."

One advertisement has Bill Haley and his Comets, Conway Twitty, Del Shannon and the Fall Guys, all in one week.

Haley is credited with putting out the first rock & roll song "Rock Around the Clock" to make number one on the pop charts, in July 1955, at a time he was playing the Jersey Shore.

Conway Twitty was a rock & roll star who became one of the biggest country music stars of all time, while Del Shannon had such hit songs as, "Runaway," "So Long Baby," "Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)" and "Dea of Love."

The Falls Guys were the penultimate house band with the Spike Jones/Len Carey schtick, playing such songs as, "My Blue Heaven," "Unchain My Heart," "Peanut Butter" and "Twist and Shout."

The legal capacity of the club was 1300 at any one time, but since there were three or four shows a night on two, and later three stages, people came and went, so the total number of patrons on a given night could be in the thousands.

The club changed considerably over the years, with the addition of the parking lot when Steel’s Ship Bar burned down. A second, and then a third stage was added, and their locations shifted over the years, eventually ending with the band playing behind two bars, one against the south wall and the other in the north wing, which was lined with a road iron rail.

College pennants lined the ceiling while giant zodiac signs hung along the walls.

There was an admission charge, and sometimes a two drink minimum, $1 to get in and $2 for two drink tickets. Then there was a pricing scheme, 60, 70, 80 or 60 cents a beer, 70 cents a mixed drink, and 80 cents for top shelf liquor, which would go 70, 80,. 90 cents when things got rolling. Tony Marts was also the first to introduce seven small five-ounce glasses of draft beer for a dollar.

Although the Anchorage Tavern down the street made 7 for 1 famous from 1966 to 1972, especially with their T-shirts, the idea began at Tony Mart’s, where every gimmick and every band got a shot at making it.

It was just before then however, when Tony Mart’s was at its peak.

According to Carmen, "I would say the absolute height of the very best years were from 1963 to 1966. That’s when things were really hoppin’."

The drinking age was 21, but if you dressed right, acted mature, or knew the doorman you could get in and get served at 17, when there wasn’t a big problem with drinking and driving.

In the early ‘60s, there were professional Go Go girls dancing in cages, and a different dance for every night of the week. Monday was Mashed Potato night, on Tuesday it was the Twist, Amateur Talent Night was Wednesday. Thursday was Limbo night, while the headliners played Friday and Saturday. Sunday featured matinee afternoon jam sessions, especially when it rained and people flocked in off the beach.

But of course some people just can’t stand to see others having a good time, and some new residents in the newly developed Somers Point bedroom communities thought the Bay Avenue strip was a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah. On any given Friday night in the summer season there was a sudden influx of several thousand young people, mainly college students, who followed the neon arrow light from the roof of Tony Mart’s to Bay Avenue where they drank cheap liquor, danced with new friends and rock & rolled until the early hours of the morning.

"Even though some of the ne’r do-well, do-gooders tried to make it out like it was just a drunken’, roudy crowd," says Carmen, "just the opposite was true. There was a distinct collegiate nature to the crowd," which was evident in the many college penants that graced the ceiling for many decades. "The patrons and employees of Tony Mart’s, Carmen maintains, "were mainly college students who went on to become professionals, many successful doctors and lawyers."

Still, they made the papers. A 1961 Philadelphia newspaper headline read: "Thirsty Teen Throngs Besiege Point," with Tony Mart’s making the New York Times in 1963 when it reported, "A New Look Slowly Comes to the Jersey Shore – Some Abrupt and Flamboyant."

It seemed that it all came together in the summer of 1965, when among the most flamboyant characters you had entertainers like Pete Caroll, Johnny Caswell and Tido Mambo, all of whom were, at one time or another, fired by Tony Marotta.

Other entertainers, like Conway Twitty and Levon and the Hawks, came and left Tony Mart’s on their own accord, their paths crossing together at Tony Marts during that fateful summer of 1965.

LEVON & THE HAWKS

In the back storage room office behind Tony Mart’s, the day manager took the bulging scrapbook off a shelf and let me page through it. An eight by ten black and white glossy promotional photo portrays the cleancut Hawks in suits and ties. A newspaper advertisement announced their impending arrival in May 1965.

Atlantic City Press entertainment writer Ted Schall, in his column Nightly Wherl, wrote, "Don’t forget that tonight is going to be a big one in Somers Point, and at Tony Mart’s in particular. The renown Conway Twitty arrives at the offshore nightspot to join a Canadian group that has rated plaudits for a number of weeks, ‘Levon and the Hawks.’"

How Levon & the Hawks came to Somers Point was a mix of fate, fortune and the tentative ties among the touring acts, roadies and managers of the roadhouse circuit that stretched from Toronto, Canada, through the South’s Chitlin’ Circuit and back up the Eastern Seaboard cities of Atlanta, DC, Philly, Atlantic City and New York.

The Hawks were nominally a Canadian group, with drummer Levon Helm, from Arkansas, being the only exception. The Hawks took their name from their former leader, "Rock-a-billy" Ronnie Hawkins, with whom they had toured prolifically.

Leaving Hawkins, they found themselves without a leader and without work, so when they decided to look for some new gigs on their own, they looked up their former roadie Bill Avis, who they found working with the Female Beatles at Tony Marts in Somers Point.

Tony offered them a set salary for a week’s work, plus a room above the club and all the cheesesteaks they could eat. Bill Avis, the roadie, was already there and vouched for the place.

With two keyboards set up behind a railing that ran along the stage, Richard Manuel set up his piano on one side, while Garth Hudson set up his B3 organ on the other side, with Levon’s drums in the middle. Bass player Rick Danko and guitarist Robbie Robertson were out front.

As Helm recalls it, "Tony’s place was the biggest teenage nightclub in the East: Three stages, seven bars and 15 cash registers. There were stools and bars, no chairs, and the capacity was suposidly 1300, but threee times that many college kids crammed into that place on weekends."

"As soon as one band finished, the next was supposed to pick up immediately on another stage," recalled Levon. "Tony didn’t want any time to go by between numbers, and if you could make the other band’s last note your first, well, Tony liked that."

Before the end, they made a movie and had a last hurrah. The movie stemmed from a novel, "Eddie & the Cruisers," by a Vineland, New Jersey high school teacher. Set in the heyday of early rock & roll, the producers were incredulous that they found such a realistic set as Tony Marts.

While the movie did not make it at the box office, when it hit cable TV the young kids liked the music of Beaver Brown, with three hit songs, "On the Darkside," "Wild Summer Nights" and "Tender Years," that put the soundtrack album on the pop charts. The movie also captured Tony Marts on film, as best it could, before it closed.

After the club was sold they held a farewell party on September 14, 1982, when a lot of old friends, including the original Fall Guys, returned to pay their respects to Tony and the club.

Shortly thereafter, Anthony Marotta, Albert Grossman the agent and Richard Manuel all passed away.

In 1986 a Tony Mart’s Reunion, featuring The Band, was held at the new nightclub built on the site of the old Tony Marts.

And now Carmen Marotta has reforged his family’s links to Levon Helm and The Band, opening Tony Marts Orleans, Levon Helm’s Classic American Café on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which includes a stage that will feature some of the same music that made Tony Marts famous.

[Originally published in The SandPaper of Ocean City, Friday, May 28, 1999]


A very creative article by Mark Tyrell from Atlantic City Mag.
JERSEY LEGENDS

Tony Mart’s Long live rock – and the memories of the places we first heard it.

By Mark Tyrrell (Atlantic City Magazine, December, 1991)

The Young man with the dark mussed hair stood in the back, leaning against the wall, his arms folded, stoically observing the whirl of commotion before him. The kinds – the place was wall to wall with them – had scarcely noticed him. They were too busy fliring, dancing and downing beers.

Hotter’n hell in here, the young man thought to himself as he watched the mob. Crowded and noisy. Uncomfortable.

There in the shadows, he could feel the bass player’s riffs vibrate in his chest, and he could small smoke, and beer, and the bay, all at once.

Very uncomfortable.

Then, as he leaned there, studying the scene as if it were a Monet painting and he an esteemed art critic, something struck him. Perhaps it was the band. They were good. Very good. But he suspected it was something more, and he was right. In all this madness, in all this noise, he suddenly realized he did not see one person who didn’t seem to be totally enjoying himself. And with that, a slight smile ran across his face.

The band onstage called themselves Levon and the Hawks, and in his, the summer of 1965 at Tony Marts, they were the band. The kids were coming to Somers Point – to Tony Mart’s – from all over to hear the Hawks, along with groups like The Female Beatles, Phil Humphries and the Fendermen, and Conway Twitty and his Six Man Oklahoma Review. They thirsted for live music, the company of the opposite sex, and, of course, the beer. And all were in plentiful supply at this old white building at Bay and Goll avenues.

It was past midnight when the young man – not much older than those sweating and laughing and dancing around him – made his way over to the nearest bar and peeled a cocktail napkin from the top of the stack. When he finally got the bartenders attention, he asked for a pen, then quickly scribbled something on the napkin. He could feel the bartender’s stare, and he knew the wheels were turning in the guy’s head.

The young man had gotten a similar look just once before on this night – a look of recognition, he first thought from a girl at the bar – but then it passed quickly. As long as he wasn’t the ABC he figured she didn’t care.

He looked up from the napkin as the bartender started to say something to him.

"Don’t I know you from – " he began, before he was drowned out by the intro of another song by the Hawks.

With that, the young man put the pen on the bar, gave the bartender a quick wink, then turned and headed for the door. The bartender was still trying to place him when he was snapped back to his senses by the words that, before Labor Day, he would hear in his sleep: "Yo! Seven beers down here!"

Once outside, Bob Dylan folded the napkin and put it in his pants pocket. He stopped on the way to his car only to light a cigarette.

EVERYTHING ABOUT TONY Mart’s was larger than life: the bands, the crowds, the stories. Inside, it was sprawling, boasting a half-dozen stages and just as many bars. Outside, high above, the trademark sign with its giant red letters – TONY MART – and the arrow streaking above it glowed like a beacon for fun seekers making their way around the Somers Point Circle.

Mostly, Tony Mart’s was a sanctuary for those too old to stay home and watch Ed Sullivan with the parents, yet too young for Atlantic City’s 500 Club. For almost 40 years, it was the centerpiece of Somers Point’s Barbary Coast, a string of creaking old alehouses teetering on the fringe of Great Egg Harbor Bay.

Across Bay Avenue from Tony Mart’s was Bayshores, a spacious Structure of wood and shingles that was so close to the bay, it looked as if a stiff westerly might send it toppling in at any time.

Further north on Bay Avenue was The Anchorage, a three story wonder with porthole windows and a porch that seemed as big as a football field. A block west, up on Shore Road, were the more modest pubs – Charlie’s, Gregory’s, and on the traffic circle, Jolly Roger’s. If you were ambitious enough, it was possible to do "the loop" – make pit stops at each of these taverns – on any given Friday night. And if Friday night succumbed to Saturday morning before you succumbed to Friday night, it was out to the Dunes on the Longport Boulevard, as their slogan said ‘Til Dawn.

To the kids on the mainland, however, the place that Anthony Marotta opened in 1944 was the granddaddy of them all.

Marottas named it after a luncheonette he had owned on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and the names he lined up to play in Tony Mart’s over the years – from Bill Haley and the Comets to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels – were legends in their own right.

The stories were innumerable. After playing some gigs at Orsatti’s, a popular Somers Point nightclub in the 40’s and 50’s, Cab Calloway went over and had beers at Tony Mart’s. And, as the story goes, one night in the mid ‘60s, Robert Zimmerman – a young folk singer who borrowed a new last name from the late poet Dylan Thomas – stopped by and took notice of the Hawks, who were making $700 a week for six nights’ work (split five ways, of course). Dylan’s alleged discovery boosted the group into the rock limelight as The Band, starring Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson.

IT WAS ONCE WRITTEN that if Linwood – a quaint, dry town just north of Somers Point – were a beverage, it would be an international coffee. In Tony Mart’s heyday, then, the Point would have been a Schlitz.

As Tony Mart’s was the centerpiece of the Somers Point night life, Somers Point was the centerpiece of the mainland. With both Ocean City and Linwood being dry, Somers Point, nestled in between, was an oasis. And on a good night along the bay, you could hear a band, get seven beers for a buck, a date to split them with, and coffee and lemon meringue pie at the Point Diner. All you needed were a comfortable pair of Keds and maybe $5 in your pocket.

What also became larger than life about Tony Mart’s was the amount of back taxes that Anthony Marotta owed the city of Somers Point on his place in the fall of 1976. Marotta made the payment – some $14,000 – in December of that year, and the rock’n’ roll faithful who defiantly held off the disco era still had their place intact. But perhaps even then the handwriting was on the wall.

In the summer of 1982, not long after segments of the movie Eddie & the Cruisers were filmed on location at Tony Mart’s, Anthony Marotta – with retirement on the horizon – sold his landmark club to an entrepreneur who had other plans for the property.

The end came quickly. On September 15, 1982, Tony Mart’s doors closed for the last time. And in early 1984, at perhaps the Jersey’s most famous night spot during the formative years of rock & roll, the walls came tumbling down.

By then, Bayshores, across the street, had already met a similar fate. Jolly Roger’s is now a Chinese restaurant, and The Dunes is dead. But down the street, The Anchorage remains intact, as well as Charlie’s and Gregory’s, which have managed to roll with the changes to cater to their more socially conscious clients.

At the corner of Bay and Goll avenues, however, there is no sign of the way things once were. Anthony Marotta, Tony Mart himself, died in 1986. Ironically, the neighborhood where the club once stood is now part of Somers Point’s Bayfront Historic District. Today at the Tony Mart’s site stands a dance club called Crazy Jane’s. Across the street, on the Bayshores lot, is the yuppie hot spot known as The Waterfront.

Perhaps it is better this way. Tony Mart’s, after all, has been excused from the era of the dance mix, with men in the billowy pants and Lycra-clad women who move as if they’ve practiced at home. It has been spared the embarrassment of serving something called dry beer; saved from the spectacle of dwarf tossing contests. It has been pardoned from the age of ferns and brass; when live music is defined by a guy who thinks he’s the next James Taylor, playing an acoustic guitar. On a deck. Where beers cost $3 each.

Somewhere, Anthony Marotta must be laughing. Ultimately, his club’s demise granted it deliverance from these, the days of whines and poses. And anyone who remembers Levon and the Hawks – or what it was like to buy more beers for a dollar than you could drink – should be grateful.

1 comment:

M said...

Hello,
My grandfather played the saxophone with Len Carey and the Krackerjacks and I'm interested in learning more of what you may have seen in the scrap books, etc. My Mom was a child when they spent the summers there and remembers those days fondly. If you have anything at all to share with me, please email: ms.merrie@gmail.com.
Thank you!
Merrie
grandaughter of Tony (Piccioni) Carr