By TOM CHESEK
“We’re taking a gamble, there’s no doubt about it,” says Downtown co-owner Danny Lynch, as he shows off the impressive results of a massive 18-month renovation.
The favorite Red Bank watering hole’s anticipated return in the coming weeks will happen not a moment too soon for patrons who were lost without it and who are depending on the completely made-over Downtown to blast away some of the dead-bank doldrums that have crept into town of late.
But for Lynch and his business partner Matt Wagman the team behind the nearby Red Restaurant and Lounge the bar and eatery represents a major investment in structural upgrades, improved facilities and people-pleasing features.
The two-level club and restaurant at 3 West Front Street is now fully twice its former size, having expanded into a neighboring building that had been vacant for as long as anyone could recall (a sign announcing the imminent arrival of a tile store sat in its window for years). And it drops onto the scene just as suddenly MIA businesses, hassles over code violations and bogus “closed for renovations” signs are proliferating in the vicinity of Front and Broad streets.
“It’s a tough market in Red Bank right now,” says Lynch while leading redbankgreen on a sneak-peek preview of what’s now a 9,800-square-foot, brick-and-wood comfort zone. “It’s really diverse in that you have your high-end places and lower-end mom and pop shops, but there’s no middle class.”
What Lynch and Wagman envision for the venerable venue is a vibe where “a clientele that’s much more casual and easygoing” than other area haunts can relax, dine, dance and socialize in a spacious setting that continues to evoke the best of the old Downtown from the famous sushi bar to the reassuring bricks.
But what makes it all the more daring in 2008 is the fact that it’s a project pegged to a policy of Live Entertainment, Seven Nights a Week.
“Downtown Red Bank really needs this, right now,” says Chris Masi, frontman for the fervently followed Shore area band Brown. As Musical Director (a title he wears proudly) for the born-again café, the Red Bank resident will be presenting an intriguing mix of legendary local lights, traditional Downtown attractions and, it’s been said, “national touring acts” on the venue’s two fully functional stages.
The twin stages are among the most striking improvements to the place, having been moved all the way back to the river end of the building and away from the front windows (where the music would go out and siren noise would come in). As is evident in the ginormous subwoofers that bookend at least one of the stages, the partners “went the extra mile” with an in-house sound system, part of a commitment to sonics that have earned the café its reputation on the Shore music scene.
At street level, a formidable center-floor bar commands attention to the right of a newly created entrance, while offering plenty of room for table dining and mingling. Upstairs, the wall-length bar and raised stage allow plenty of dance-floor space, with the tall ceiling (the owners have dismantled the building’s third floor) marking a profound change from the often claustrophobic confines of the former Downtown Café.
All new and truly exciting is an enhanced kitchen that will be serving up a full dinner menu under the supervision of Dominic Giuliano (of the partners’ sister establishment PS 450 and other acclaimed NYC eateries). According to Lynch, the chef’s culinary creations have been praised as “posh pub grub, which pretty much hits it on the head.”
And then there’s the music. Masi’s weekly menu of live sounds kicks off with the return of two perennials from the venue’s heyday, with Rob Dye bringing his Sunday night Open Jam series over from Red and Shore stalwart Pat Guadagno resuming his longtime Monday evening stand. Midweek finds Jason Jack holding down the fort on Tuesdays, while The Rub inaugurates an every-Thursday gig. Wednesdays will see a rotating crop of the area’s musical creme.
Fridays and Saturdays find the higher-profile acts performing upstairs; the out-of-town heavies alternating with some favorite sons and daughters of the Jersey Shore. Appearances by The Parlor Mob, Chuck Lambert and award-winning blues ace Matt O’Ree have been confirmed for April.
It’s a lineup that has Masi ready and raring to throw open the brand new doors.
“Everybody’s really excited about this,” the go-to guy enthuses. “I‘m really excited; now I have a place to hang out once again.”