A SECOND LIFE AT THE INTERNET CAFÉ

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI
Joe Cullity doesn’t like to make a big deal out of his hip injury, and speaks reluctantly about the day he got it — September 11, 2001.

“I was lucky I was late for work,” he says. “I lost a lot of my friends that day.”

A software designer for the New York Mercantile Exchange, Cullity was inside Tower One, waiting at the elevator bank to go up to Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond trading firm, when the first plane hit the building.

“I walked to the back and saw all this debris coming down and flames and people running like hell,” he recalls. “Then I went to the front. Everybody was looking up at the building. I was standing under the door. After a few seconds I ran like a bastard across the street. At that time we thought it was an accident, an idiot controller. We had no idea.”

Out on the street, he was reminded of another day eight years earlier. He had been a block or two away when the first World Trade Center attack, a truck bombing, took place. So this was familiar turf in more ways than one.

“I was over at Brooks Brothers, and saw the second plane go into the other tower, and I said, ‘Ah, no,'” Cullity says. He was hit in the side by part of a cubicle wall with a desk attached to it. “I like to keep this low-key,” he says, but the experience was life-changing.

On the way back to New Jersey by ferry, he saw both towers fall, one by one.

Soon after, he felt it was time to get out of town permanently. “I didn’t want to be there for the third one,” Cullity notes with his habitual understatement.

A large man who now walks with a limp, he shrugs off his injury as a minor inconvenience. He doesn’t show any bitterness about the attack’s effect on him.

A past relationship had brought Cullity, who grew up in Jersey City, to Red Bank, and he’s glad he stayed after it ended. “I’ve been here half my life,” says the lifelong bachelor.

Last October, a friend was selling the Internet Café. Cullity got a loan and went into the restaurant business, taking over the airy space at 1 West Front Street with floor-to-ceiling windows, a stage setup in one corner, and a service area a few steps up from the tables on the main floor. One wall is painted with an enormous tropical mural. A large TV is used for video gaming.

“I wanted to keep it going,” says Cullity, seated in the breezeway outside the back door of the café, where a line of tables waits for the lunch crowd.

Despite it’s premier location, the café is easily overlooked, and has an out-of-the-way vibe that lends it an air of refuge, which probably makes it easier for timid would-be performers who flock here. For nearly a decade, this has been the site of an open-mic night, the longest-running such venue in Monmouth County. Today, the Red Bank Music Community sponsors the open mic nights on Sundays.

The café does a brisk night-time business with an all-ages crowd that comes for events ranging from acoustic solo music shows to stand-up comedy. Kids also come in after school to do their homework or play computer games.

“I don’t want to lose the kids,” he says. “Where else are they going to go?”

There’s also an older breakfast and lunch clientele that Cullity says he needs to cover the rent, because he has no liquor license.

With a highly reliable T1 line that never goes down, the café acts as an emergency server for businesses that need to stay connected. “Every day, somebody’s server goes down, and they need to come in,” Cullity says. So his IT background comes in handy, as does his experience in putting shows together and doing sound for live performances.

Cullity laughs easily and seems focused on the future as he talk about making his new venture an asset to the town.

“It’s a very tough place to turn around,” he says. “But even on a bad day, it’s better than getting on a boat and going to New York.”

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