Monday, April 20, 2009
Photo: Jerry Cummings
TONY MARTS Yesterday and Today – By William Kelly
Today, 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, 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.
The trip from then to now was a fun one 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 Sunday afternoon at the Somers Point American Legion with live entertainment, dancing, good food and t-shirts, just like the Good Old Days.
It’s been a quarter of a century now since they filmed the movie Eddie & the Cruisers and then demolished the place, but people just won’t let the good times go.
Even thought its been closed for twenty five years, Tony Marts is still getting good press today. Two recent news stories referred to the legendary nightclub.
In The Post, Fort Dix, N.J. (June 8, 2008) Steve Snyder, Public Affairs Staff wrote about “Live is a beach in New Jersey (at least during the summer), in which he wrote, “But Ocean City is still number one in my book. I started visiting there during college days, appreciating the genial atmosphere so easily purveyed by the residents. A dry town, we used to cross the causeway to Summer’s Point for night life where lyrics from Bunny Siegel’s ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ punctured eardrums along a strip marked by a huge night club (called Tony Marz if memory serves) and two or three serviceable bars with atmosphere appealing to young adults.”
Bill Sokolic, in the June 5, 2008, Courier Post, wrote about a new band with ties to the old club, who are using the place as a recording studio.
“In the back of a former legendary club in Somers Point, Roy Hamilton Jr. and his son Roy Hamilton III make music together in a small recording studio created out of a former refrigerator. The legacy of Roy Hamilton Sr. is never far away. The elder Roy scored a string of hits in the 1950s and 1960s, like ‘Unchained Melody,’ “Don’t Let Go,’ and “You Can Have Her,’ among others….”
“Meanwhile in Detroit, Roy Jr. and his band, The Golden Boys, performed at various venues all over Michigan. He also created ‘The Golden Boy Hour Roy Hamilton Remembered,’ a one hour radio show dedicated to playing Roy Hamilton records. Fans called in to reminisce. The show's producer added John Cafferty's ‘The Dark Side’ as the intro to the show because it reminded him of ‘Eddie & The Cruisers’ and the band's fictional story. (A story which took place in the same legendary club in Somers Point where Roy Jr. and Roy III record, Tony Marts. (In the mid-1960s, the house band at Tony Marts was Levon and the Hawks, who left the Somers Point club to become the backing band for Bob Dylan. They also adapted a new moniker, The Band.).”
Originally built as a hotel for tourists who arrived at the end of the trolley line or ferry, which docked right across the street, it was called Schick’s Hotel, run by a German and famous for it’s Rathskeller bar when the Hurricane of 1944 was the last straw for many Jersey Shore businesses.
Like many other homes and businesses at the time, it was a buyer’s market, with everything for sale at cut rate prices, so enterprising businessmen and families bought into what would become Gregory’s, Charlie’s, DiOrio’s, the Anchorage, the Point Pub, Bay Shores and Schick’s Hotel, all of which changed ownership around the same time.
Schick’s Hotel would be purchased by Anthony Marotta and become Tony Marts. Born in Naso, in the province of Mesina in northern Sicily, Marotta came to America and lived the American dream, settling in Atlantic City’s Ducktown neighborhood with relatives and friends from the old country. Working with his new wife Mary Basile at a hot dog stand at Columbia Avenue and the boardwalk, they saved enough to make a down payment on the Schick Hotel. While the Marotta’s moved to Somers Point, Mary’s family went on to establish the White House Sub Shop, now an Atlantic City institution.
At the Point, Tony Marts Café stayed small at first, and was different from the old rathskeller for its entertainment. Rather than just a piano player, Tony Marts featured different acts, but one stood out with a New Orleans marti grau act that set the tone for many of the thousands of bands that would grace the Tony Marts’ stage over the next half-century.
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 that also included Steel’s Ship Bar, Bay Shores, Orsatti’s Gateway Casino, which became the Under 21 Club and the Anchorage.
Now, there’s only an historic marker to memoralize they were even there.
The band that made Tony Marts popular was Len Carey and his Krackerjacks, who would whip the crowds into a frenzy, and establish Tony Marts as one of the most popular nightclubs on the East Coast. A protégé of Spike Jones, Carey had that “Jazzmania Smile,” and was the first of a series of hot house bands that kept Tony Marts rocking all summer while traveling headline acts and popular recording stars passed through on weekends.
Booking bands through Colonel Kutlets, a Canadian agent, Tony brought in bands from all over the country.
Besides Carey and his Krackerjacks, other Tony Marts house bands included The Fall Guys and Levon and the Hawks, who became famous as The Band, Bob Dylan’s back up group.
Headliners included Duane Eddie, The Skyliners (“Pennies from Heaven”), Johnny Mastrangelo (aka Johny Maestro) and the Crests, and later the Brooklyn Bridge (“Sixteen Candles” “The Worst that Could Happen”), who is playing in Atlantic City this month, Joey D’ and the Starlighters (“Pepperment Twist”), Bill Haley & the Comets (“Rock Around the Clock”), Del Shannon (“Runaway” “Sea of Love”) and Conway Twitty.
Conway Twitty was playing rock & roll at Tony Marts in 1965, and first base on the Tony Marts All Star soft ball team, when he told Tony he wanted to play country music, and Tony told him to follow his heart and Conway left Somers Point for Nashville.
Twitty was the headliner when Levon & the Hawks were the house band that Colonel Kutlets had sent down from Canada to play three sets a night, seven nights for eight weeks. Dressed in the jackets and ties that club bands wore in those days, Levon & the Hawks were glad to settle down in one place after playing three years on the road with Rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins.
Tony wanted his house bands to play in the Spike Lee/Len Carey Jazzmania Smile tradition, and the Hawks fit the bill, but every once in awhile they’d sneak in a song that wasn’t on the pop charts and Tony had to complain. “The musicians are playing for themselves,” he would say in his deep gravely voice, while puffing on a cigar. He wanted the bands to play to the crowd, keep them dancing and from leaving to go across the street to Bay Shores, where they also had two stages and constant music.
The legal capacity for Tony Marts, according to the sign next to the door, was 1300 at any one time, but there were three and sometimes on rainy afternoons and Sundays, four shows a day, and people came and went so on any given night thousands of people were entertained. Above the door was a sign: “Through these doors walk the most beautiful girls in the world.”
In its heyday, people paid a few dollars to park, but got tickets to get in and for drinks, which were fifty cents for a beer and seventy cents for a mixed drink, which went up over time, but was never really expensive. Seven draft beers were a dollar, a gimmick Tony started that was picked up and made famous by the Anchorage down the street.
The drinking age was 21, but if you acted mature, worked in the business or knew the doorman or a bartender, you could get in as a teenager. In the early 60s there were professional Go Go dancers, and a different dance each night of the week – Monday was Mashed Potato night, Tuesday was the Twist, Wednesday was Amateur night and Thursday was Limbo night. Sundays, or any day of the week that rained, featured a matinee performance that was really outrageous, and people flocked in off the beach in the afternoons.
The beginning of the end was the lowering of the drinking age from 21 to 18, which was done during the Vietnam War era, when draftees could fight but not drink or vote. The influx of a new generation drove out the older crowd, and eventually ended the good times when drunk driving fatalities led to raising the drinking age back to 21.
Eventually, as Tony got old and retired and his sons Tony, Jr. and Carmen tried to keep the place going, they got an offer they couldn’t refuse.
During the last summer of 1982 however, they filmed the movie “Eddie & the Cruisers” at Tony Marts, capturing the feel of the club for posterity on celluloid. The Beaver Brown Band, who returned to Somers Point to play the Good Old Days picnic a few years ago, did the soundtrack for the movie and got three hit songs, “Wild Summer Nights,” “On the Darkside” and “Tender Years.”
At the end, they threw a party on Tony Marts’ last night, September 14, 1982. They brought back some of the old bands and celebrity bar tenders, had a grand time, and then stripped the walls of astrology signs, college pennants and memorabilia that some people still treasure for their memories.
Harris Berman, a Camden County attorney, with the proceeds of the sale of a Florida hotel, bought Tony Marts, as he had Bay Shores across the street a year earlier, and tore them down to build a new restaurant he called the Waterfront and a disco named Egos.
With an expensive sound system for records, a big dance floor, and a wrap around balcony, the Egos complimented the Waterfront, originally designed as a mountain ski lodge. Real estate guru Jay Lamont bought the Waterfront and maintained it as a popular establishment for a decade, and then Egos, changing the name to Crazy Jane’s. Crazy Jane’s was sold to the Brownie’s chain from Philly, but after five years as Brownies By the Bay, it went through a succession of failed businesses and one season bust out joints – including Key West and finally Club Ice.
Dr. Ira Trocki, the local cosmetic surgeon (and Mike Tyson’s cut man), is known for buying distressed properties, and he bought Club Ice and Mayer’s Inn, the old Corletto’s Marina that John Mayer had fixed up as a quaint Bed & Breakfast.
After one year of running Club Ice, Trocki moved what was the Tony Mart’s liquor license down the street to the Inn, which became Tucker’s (and is now under new ownership).
Club Ice sat empty for a few years until recently, when it was leased as an under 21 club for young people, but only lasted a few weeks. The property is for sale for a reported $10 million, and is ripe for development, but the failure of the city’s redevelopment process and the current economic situation does not indicate there will be any changes anytime soon. The site is in a redevelopment zone and eventually will be developed.
The Marotta home on Bay Avenue was sold by the family last year and is now on the market as well.
In a scene that was filmed but cut out of the Eddie & the Cruisers movie, Tom Berringer, the Wordman, keyboard player in the band who became a school teacher, returns to Tony Marts only to find it closed, boarded up and for sale.
Where did everybody go?
Former Tony Mart bartender Sonny McCullough is now mayor of EHT; The late Harry Goldenberg became a trial lawyer in Atlantic City; Tony, Jr. moved to Arizona; Carmen Marotta was a Somers Point city councilman and head of the local Republican Party; Dooby the bartender moved to Hawaii; Ruby Falls married Malcolm from the band that played across the street at Bayshores; Malcom became a New York city mounted policeman; Levon & the Hawks became The Band and went on to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
[Eddie & Crusiers