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, First and Pennsylvania, Avenue, Somers Point, N.J. $12 For tickets or more information call: 609 653-6069