When Brighton Bar owner Greg Macolino messaged me his schedule for December, I couldn’t help but smirk at his tenacity. Greg has turned the Brighton Bar from a failed sports establishment on the precipice of extinction into a thriving and vital club on the Jersey Shore scene and beyond. I say beyond because this little room is known worldwide: From Blondie to members of the Sex Pistols, they’ve all been here.
With multiple promotion companies snuffling along our shores, you would think that there would be no stone left unturned in the promoters’ quest for conquest and assimilation.
But a few, such as the Brighton Bar, have escaped and survived, pooling resources and ideas to pull in their own crowds and do their own unique thing year after year. In the ‘80s, the Brighton was the place to go if you wanted to hear the very best in original music, bar none.
I grew up at the Brighton. I spent many an hour on that stage figuring out what worked and what didn’t, and I’m extremely proud to have my band, In Between Dreams, emblazoned on the Brighton Wall Of Fame.
It’s funny, because back then, Greg Macolino—who also went under the stage name Greg Gory—was just another patron in a band. His band The Chronic Sick was a mainstay, as was his next band, the X-Men. So, just as some of us went from performance to writing, production and publishing, how fitting is it that Macolino would take over the longest running original rock room in the area?
Greg told me this about his formative Brighton years: “I’ve been hanging at the bar since 1981. But I didn’t just play there; I hung out there in the daytime to see other bands. As you know, back then, bands used to go see each other and support, making for a stronger scene. From time to time I would work the door for Big John Barbierri as well. Later on in the early ‘90s, I started working lights, and eventually became a bartender for new owner Tony LaSanti. After a few years working for him, he made an offhand comment asking me if I wanted to buy the place. Well, somehow me and Jim ‘Killer’ Connelly came up with the money and bought in, becoming partners with Tony in June of 1996. Tony was a nice guy, but not a rock guy, more of a sports guy, so after a year as partners, me and ‘Killer’ bought him out. We totally changed the place, painted it black, got rid of the sports pictures, moved the bar to where it is now (and where it originally had been before Tony had bought it from Big John) and it’s still happening for us today.”
It wasn’t all unicorns and lollipops. There were internal issues, political head-to-head struggles with a longtime booking agent who saw things as being run differently in the club. “My relationship with a well-known promoter soured as we failed to see eye to eye on the direction of the bar in terms of booking. I had envisioned this individual as being one of the biggies in this area in regards to booking. He had an excellent reputation, bands liked him, and he was making a name for the bar. But starting around 2004, he just seemed to run out of ideas, refused to change and failed to adapt to the realities of the situation, which was the rise of new rooms like The Saint and the unique new bookings down at the Asbury Lanes. I gave him ample time to adjust, but he just flat-out refused. Of course, he didn’t pay the bills, so he had the luxury to ‘stay pure.’ I almost ran the business into the ground, especially when the recession of 2008 hit, so I decided that I would take on the task of booking it myself.”
The economic crash of 2008 slammed into the Brighton hard. Dwindling attendance due to disorganization, dissension and cost of national acts were also burgeoning negative factors.
But Greg managed to keep his passion for the room focused. He says of that, “It was a horrible time for a while. Not sleeping, all this impending doom, having to sell the Brighton to builders for nothing, contractors that would knock it down to make apartments. It was a very dark time. But things have finally started to even out, and now I have booking agents calling me instead of having to chase them around. Booking shows in this area can be a challenge because of the many venues around us. But at the same time, it helps too. The fact that we have a fertile area of so many bands and venues shows booking agents that this is a good market for live entertainment.”
And the Brighton remains unique. The quality of bands that play there is high and it’s never a boring proposition when attending a show.
“I’ve got Monster Magnet returning,” Greg says. “This is where they started, played their first gig ever. They’ll be playing two nights in a row on Friday, Dec. 28, and Saturday, Dec 29. The Brighton Bar is their favorite venue. Also, the night before the Magnet shows I’ve got David Johansen fronting a full rock band doing the best of the New York Dolls as well as early solo material. It’s David like you’ve never seen him before. He never fronts another band and does a full rock show like this, and it’s only here at The Brighton Bar.”
“Since 1915, The Brighton Bar has had only six owners,” Greg states. “It was first owned by the Beatty family, who sold it to Rocky Fodderera in the 1940s, and then sold it to Joe Meeham in early 1970s. Joe should be given a note in history because he was the first to offer live entertainment and it was originals only. Then Meeham sold it to Big John Barbierri in 1986 and Big John sold it to Tony LaSanti in 1989 who, in turn, sold it to me in 1996.”
When I asked Greg how it felt about owning the very room he used to hang out in, he added, “I love owning the bar. It’s every guy’s dream to own his own bar and in my case, a rock and roll bar. But it’s not all tea and crumpets; it’s a full-time thinking process and now that I’m the key promoter, it’s basically taken over my life. But I still love it and enjoy offering cool shows to people.”
Like Greg, I got to spend many of my most cherished rock and roll days on the Brighton stage and the fact that it’s still there is a comfortable stability in an otherwise strange and random world. Even Hurricane Sandy couldn’t take down the tough little Long Branch room.
And as for the future? Greg tells of a new addition to the family: “I’m starting Brighton Bar Records and hopefully 2013 will see the first of a compilation album on vinyl, CD, and online with some really cool bands. I don’t want to say more about it now, but I’m excited about that. I think the bar will be good for the record company and the company good for the bar and in the end, good for all of our patrons and lifelong friends.”
You can catch Greg Macolino at The Brighton Bar most nights. Stop down and say hello and ask him to tell you the story about the Wall Of Fame. For more information, head over to brightonbar.com.