Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon

In New Brunswick: Harvest Moon Brewery

Corrections or additions?

This article by Diana Wolf was prepared for the December 18, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Hot Spots for Wintry Nights

While some clubs in central New Jersey have fallen

off the map for blues and roots-rock aficionados, Lambertville Station

has put itself on the itinerary in recent years as a great nightclub

for blues and classic rock.

Since 1999 bartender Sandy Campoli has been booking the bands at the

club downstairs from the vast dining room upstairs at Lambertville

Station. Campoli, who began playing drums as a 13-year-old, has worked

as a bartender at the restaurant for the past 10 years. The restaurant

— which was so successful it added a 45-room hotel on adjacent

property four years after it opened — celebrated 20 years of existence

in a precarious business in November. Based on the relative success

the club had with its jazz night, which features keyboardist Cotton

Kent and area vocalists, Campoli, 52, who plays in a classic rock

band called Little Martha, decided to try blues and roots-rock on

Friday nights.

The club’s experiments with jazz began as a Sunday brunch, Campoli

explains, seated at a table in the club with co-owner Dan Whitaker.

Other owners at Lambertville Station include Skip and Tony DiMarco,

Rose DiMarco Carbonara, and Michael Dougherty.

"We saw an opening to do something with blues and classic rock

on Friday evenings," Campoli explains. Bands that have performed

at the club on Friday nights include Paul Plumeri, Deb Callahan, Ron

Kraemer and the Hurricanes, his own group, Little Martha, the Delivery

Boys, 519 South, the Ernie White Band and the Greg Thatcher Band.

With the Inn at Lambertville Station connected to the main restaurant,

the potential is there to bring in national touring acts, but thus

far, that avenue has yet to be pursued, Campoli and Whitaker say.

The elevated stage inside the club and the mirrors around the room

and strategically placed tables make it a good spot to hear Cotton

Kent and his varying groups on a Saturday night or any of the blues

and roots-rock bands on a Friday night.

"Because of the mirrors here, you can see everybody on stage from

anywhere in the room," Campoli notes on a tour of the club, which

has elevated tables and a sunken dance floor.

Unlike other central New Jersey nightclubs, jazz hasn’t been a tough

sell at Lambertville Station, Campoli says.

"We’ve put the music in the proper forum, and Cotton Kent has

been with us for five years, the entire time on Saturdays with keyboards.

He’s bringing in different singers each week, Doris Spears, Winonah

Brooks, and Cedric Jensen and Dave Mohn join him on drums," Campoli

says.

"We like to emphasize the dance part of our blues and classic-rock

night on Fridays," adds Campoli, who was raised in Ardsley, Pennsylvania.

The club has also hosted nationally recognized names in jazz and rock

‘n’ roll who live in the area, including saxophonist Richie Cole,

trombonist Clifford Adams, and former Blood, Sweat and Tears keyboardist

Glenn McClellan.

"Twenty years ago this area downstairs here was a disco,"

Whitaker says. "It used to be jam-packed five nights a week, and

then we started getting tired, went to a Sunday brunch with jazz,

went back to being a disco for a while and then Sandy started talking

about bringing some groups in here."

On a brief tour, Whitaker and Campoli explain that Lambertville

Station was a vacant train station. The owners spent a year renovating

the place into a restaurant and opened in November, 1982. In an aside,

Whitaker explains that the owners didn’t get involved in the restaurant

business to "get rich quick. You serve good food with good service,

and people keep coming back," he explains.

Unlike the Old Bay in New Brunswick, or other clubs in central New

Jersey that cater to distinct audiences, here at Lambertville Station

most of the patrons come for food and "a great pub atmosphere,"

according to Campoli. For example, the Old Bay has patrons who come

for New Orleans-styled food, patrons who come for the large number

of exotic beers on tap at the club, and patrons who show up for the

local and regional blues acts the club hosts.

Clubs come and go, but Lambertville Station at least has the advantage

of a solid lunch and dinner business. "It’s a lot of things to

a lot of people: the food, the atmosphere, the location, it’s the

way our staff handles everything, people come back," Whitaker

says.

While the downstairs pub at Lambertville Station was having jazz on

Sundays, that recently stopped, Whitaker explains, "because we

found people would come in, have a drink, and then they would leave

to walk around town. Financially, I don’t think it was making it;

in the wintertime we had to compete with football games and in the

summer, we had to compete with nice weather outdoors."

Since 1982 when Lambertville Station opened, the city itself has become

a center for antiques and art galleries, and the annual Lambertville

Shad Festival, with its outdoor stage, has morphed into a successful

event that draws people from around the Garden State.

Whitaker, 53, was raised in Feasterville, Pennsylvania, and moved

to Florida for 10 years after college, where he first got into the

restaurant business. "My partner and I then came back up here,

decided to open a restaurant, and then found this," he says. He

has lived in Lambertville since renovations began in 1981. The kitchen

is actually two old railroad cars that have been cut in half and renovated

to fit several large ovens and various kitchen fixtures.

Campoli began playing drums as a 13-year-old at the 19th Hole Restaurant

in Ardsley, and started bartending as a 17-year-old, covering for

the main bartender.

"At that time, I wasn’t permitted to go into the bar area, so

when I got through playing music I had to go sit in the dressing room,

but by the time I was 18, the bartender would put me behind the bar

while he took a break, as a goof," he says. Since then, he adds,

"I’ve tended bar in a million places, and no two days are ever

the same."

Asked about future plans, Campoli says he’s bandied about the idea

of a Lambertville Station blues and jazz festival, but thus far, they

haven’t found a way to make it work, despite the spacious parking

lot alongside the Delaware River and room enough for a small outdoor

stage.

"It’s a difficult thing to do," Campoli says, "we’ve speculated

about a tractor trailer stage, but it’s really a matter of finding

the right place to hold a festival without jamming up the town, traffic-wise."

Asked about the growing number of restaurants — some of which

offer live music — in the area, Whitaker says, "When we first

opened there was Zadar’s and Havana and Jon & Peter’s. But I think

the demographics of this area have changed somewhat. People are not

staying out as late. Whereas before, 2 a.m. was the norm, now it’s

more like 12:30," Whitaker says. "That’s one of the reasons

we wanted to get the dancing involved."

"A lot of women want to go out to dinner and then they like to

dance, and so we give them the opportunity to do both here."

— Richard J. Skelly

Lambertville Station, 11 Bridge Street, Lambertville,

609-397-8300.

Upcoming bands include: December 20, Delivery Boys; December

27, The Lifters; January 3, 519 South; January 10, Little Martha.

Saturdays in December and January, jazz with keyboardist Cotton Kent

and musical guests.

Top Of Page
Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon

Walking into Joe’s Mill Hill in Trenton is like walking

into the bar from "Cheers." A stained glass window and antique-ish

hanging photos add to the welcoming decor. Eric the bartender greets

me and my date as if we’re old friends. He offers us any of the approximately

20 tables (plus a non-smoking back area) in this large wood-paneled

room. White Christmas lights on the ceiling add charm to the well-lit

room as we navigate the bar, where six working class barflys in jeans

and T-shirts eat their meals.

This Friday night’s atmosphere is a casual whisper. We are one of

two tables for dinner at this late hour of 8:30 p.m. A Philadelphia

radio station plays quiet classic rock behind our conversation. Our

waitress, Chris, is friendly and doesn’t hover over us, reading a

paper and smoking a cigaret at the bar between our courses. Denny,

the owner, brings our entrees out personally.

Dinner prices run between $7 and $20, a bargain if all meals are as

large and tasty as ours are. The nacho appetizer chips stay warm to

the last nibble, although the runny salsa has an odd tang to it. We

both order salads for our main course, surprised that they arrive

on large dinner plates. His Cajun Chicken salad deceives the tongue

as the spice hits your taste buds after you swallow. My Grilled Chicken

Feta salad, a house specialty recommended by Chris, is a tasty delight

served with balsamic vinaigrette and walnuts. A good meal for the

$8 price tag.

At about 9 p.m., the bright lights dim. Chris leaves to open the downstairs

area, a small basement with jukebox and bar. We celebrate the instant

romance.

The night crowd enters after 9:30 p.m. in groups of twos and threes,

attired in jeans and cell phones, greeted by Eric’s booming, bear-hug

voice. Guys going solo sit at the bar while groups spread out at the

tables behind us. The crowd reaches maximum after 11 p.m., but tonight’s

warm weather makes for plenty of elbow room. The band may have contributed,

an unremarkable jazz trio providing pleasant but neutral background

music.

This is a great group evening hangout, with food served until 10 p.m.

on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Bring your own friends, as the

table setup inhibits casual mingling, and the groups I saw huddle

among themselves. A single, social female looking for a 25 to 30-something

has endless possibilities, but she will have to do the work. These

guys saddle up to a barstool and plop down for the night with their

beer. For a seeking male, seek elsewhere.

— Diana Wolf

Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon, 300 South Broad Street, Trenton,

609-394-7222. Bands nightly; Monday is open mike night. Hours: Monday

to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Closed Sundays.

Www.joesmillhill.com

Top Of Page
In New Brunswick: Harvest Moon Brewery

Up a staircase reminiscent of a grand ballroom and not

some New Brunswick bar is an intimate, smoke-free dining area where

table candles flicker against peach walls. Slinky black lamps light

up high-back wooden booths. The paintings of a local artist, a friend

of the owner, add to the atmosphere. I’m seated near the slingshot

moon, an appropriate image for this Harvest Moon.

I’m not the only solo diner for an 8 p.m. meal, but mostly couples

and groups are here, engaging in either whispers or animated discussions.

The seating design doesn’t sacrifice privacy to maximize space, for

I am neither disturbed nor eavesdropping. This secluded elegance is

not reflected in prices that range from $8 to $10 for salads, appetizers,

and pizzas, $8 for sandwiches, and a reasonable $12 to $20 for the

entrees.

I’d been eyeing the roasted vegetable torte when my waitress, Shannon,

tells me her mother tried it last week and loved it. That’s enough

recommendation for me. Rolls with spicy herb butter precede the meal,

and my mixture of zucchini, squash, onion, and peppers over a scallion

potato cake is as scrumptious as promised.

Dinner seating is also available downstairs, but the bar is the focal

point when entering. You can’t come to Harvest Moon without sampling

the brewery’s finest. I order a light beer after my heavy meal. The

Golden Blonde tastes like — well, like beer. I’m no connoisseur,

but any beer lover will approve of the variety of home-grown and "guest

brews" on tap.

The nightly DJ or band sets up at the foot of the stairs, an awkward

placement for tonight’s spunky jazz vocalist band whose instruments

outnumber the members. The eight-member band squeezes into a space

best suited for a trio at most. Any room that might have existed for

mingling is eliminated. Late night diners leaving from upstairs weave

between sheet music racks and step over instruments.

Despite the lack of room, my patented feminine wink and a smile charms

a barstool from a guy. I listen to the band in style, and what amazes

me most is my inability to locate a patron besides myself not smoking.

Even the singer and her band members light up, with the saxophone

player puffing one while playing. I don’t know where he found the

oxygen, because I spend the night trying to breathe through my ears.

The best way to enjoy the nightly entertainment is to arrive early

with your friends and sit at a table or barstool. This is a friendly

30-something crowd, but no one goes out of their way to talk outside

their group. The sophisticated females dress in low-cut blouses while

the male plumage consists of jeans and polo shirts. And there’s enough

touching and kissing here that you may regret arriving solo.

— Diana Wolf

Harvest Moon Brewery & Cafe, 392 George St. New Brunswick,

732-249-6666. Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday & Sunday,

3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Entertainment nightly. Www.harvestmoonbrewery.com..


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