Underpass Farewell


Brian participated in the last night of live music at The Underpass in Elmwood Park, NJ on May 25, 2007 and sent me the article pasted below about the venue's closing shortly thereafter.  It was a personally historic place for me as it contained one of the first stages on which I saw a full Brian Fitzpatrick show...and, of course, a place visited again and again to enjoy many more of these.  I couldn't agree more with what the article says about Joe Beets and the wonderfully welcoming environment he created.  He has a terrific -- and terrifically big -- personality, and I sincerely hope he finds -- and creates -- another such fantastic home for original music and the family of musicians and friends it brought together. 


Sometimes a bar is like an old friend. When it closes for good, regulars become mourners. So it was with The Underpass in Elmwood Park.

Ten years ago, the unassuming bar on Market Street opened as one of the only places in North Jersey where musicians could play live, original music. For musicians and live-music lovers, The Underpass was a refuge in a landscape of karaoke and sports bars, places where the only live music is played by cover bands doing familiar tunes. This week, the bar closes for three months of renovations, and will reopen a new place: different owners, different decor, different music and different people.

The Underpass was the vision of friends Paul Gurriere and Robert Henderson, known to the world by his Navy nickname, Joe Beets. Their love of music started with the Grateful Dead but expanded far beyond that, to bluegrass and blues, acoustic and jazz, hard-core even -- what mattered is that it was original.

"The way music is now ... it seems like people want to hear what they just finished listening to on the radio," said Beets, who is 52 and lives in Clifton. "People who were, I guess, into the same things that we were found that it was a cool place to hang out, to be into music like we were."

Musicians met each other at The Underpass and decided to form bands; men and women met each other and decided to get married (five couples in all, Beets said).

People came to hear a friend's or brother's band play and kept coming back. Beets, who was born and raised outside San Francisco, had a welcoming energy that made the bar feel like home.

"The bar and the people that started it created a community that you won't find anywhere else," Craig Woolcott, 35, said at the bar Friday. A regular until moving to Washington, D.C., he still visits when he's home.

"It's the only bar in New Jersey that a girl could come by herself and feel welcome," said Joana Cruz, 34, of Elizabeth, who said she'd been coming since the bar opened.

"It was kind of like an Elks Lodge," said Carrie Engdahl, 29, a Belleville musician who played the bar so often Beets christened her "The Sweetheart of The Underpass." "It's rough being a singer-songwriter, and a player of original music. It was a place where you could always go in, and there's a hug from Joe Beets waiting for you and five other people at the bar who understand what you're going through. It was a place where we could all sort of inspire each other."

"We are a haven for musicians who want to express what they do well, and passionately," said Russ Clement, sound engineer, who joined the bar eight years ago. "That ideal was never compromised."

The Underpass's interior is not unlike a homey basement, with wood paneling and printed tapestries and photos of Jerry Garcia on its walls.

With a pool table at one end and the tiny stage at the other, most of the room is filled by a large, triangular-shaped bar. Until Beets bought it, The Underpass was biker bar named Shanon's, and before that, The Triangle Bar, a watering hole for Marcal employees in the days of the "liquid lunch," Beets said. Gurriere's brother, Kenny, who inherited the bar after Paul died, decided to sell the bar for personal reasons.

Ciro Briganti, owner of Ciro's Hair Pavillion, a salon next to The Underpass, will reopen the bar in the fall. As for talk that it might continue to host some live original music like that showcased at The Underpass, "Maybe one or two nights like this, but not every night," Briganti said.

"We're going to make it nice," said his daughter, Nina.

Clement and Beets are looking for a new home for The Underpass and have identified some possible locations in Clifton, Kearny and Montclair.

Friday, they circulated an e-mail list so they can update people about their search for a new location. In the meantime, they are facing the end.

"I live there basically," said Beets. "It hasn't really hit me. It's going to be like losing a great friend. It's really, unbelievably sad."









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