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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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
27, The Lifters; January 3, 519 South; January 10, Little Martha.
Saturdays in December and January, jazz with keyboardist Cotton Kent
and musical guests.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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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