The news has at least two generations of local residents disappointed and disgusted, but the Internet Café is “throwing in the towel,” says owner Joe Cullity.

In the wake of an incident that saw a recent show shut down by Red Bank inspectors, things had been touch-and-go at the all-ages club and coffeehouse that’s spotlighted everything from hardcore mini-megafests to Christian open mic nights.

But a sign posted at the venue’s alleyway entrance yesterday spelled out in no uncertain terms that iCafé has closed. Ditto for the venue’s website, on which the dates “1995 – 2008” loom like a headstone inscription.

According to the notice credited to the iCafé’s management, “the rents, loss of customer base on the North side of town and rules artificially limiting the number of patrons that could attend our shows have finally taken their toll and made it impossible for us to continue.”

The shutdown follows events of Jan. 25, when a multi-band concert booked by Avail Entertainment and featuring the MySpace-spawned combo Eyes Set to Kill was halted when inspectors determined that the West Front Street venue’s legal occupancy limit had been far exceeded.

Dozens of angry ticketholders, who had reportedly paid $12 each, were turned away and forced to cool their heels in the arctic air of the adjacent alleyway. Those who ventured outside for any reason were denied re-entry, at least one band had the power cut to the stage in mid-set, and, most crushing of all to the crowd, the headliners were unable to perform before the plug was pulled on the entire evening.

In subsequent days, other scheduled events were either relocated or canceled outright. The beleaguered owner, who claimed to have had no problems with Avail until recently, said in comment posted on redbankgreen that “we considered the safety of the people inside the Café our primary mission, and asked the patrons to talk to the people from the production company about the problem and possible refunds.”

According to Cullity, who purchased the iCafé from Paul Bogdanovich in 2006, the promoters printed and distributed far more tickets to the show than the room could comfortably accommodate. Advance advertising and ticket stubs promised a bill of four bands; Cullity estimates that more than a dozen different groups showed up with expectations of playing that night.

With local bands commonly allocated approximately 50 tickets to peddle to friends and family members, the iCafé was faced with hundreds more patrons than the place could legally or safely handle.

In the aftermath, Cullity says, the iCafé’s occupancy limit was adjusted downward to 56 patrons, a number that he and Bogdanovich maintain is far below what the room could safely accommodate.

A meeting between Cullity and borough fire marshal Tom Welsh was scheduled for late Monday afternoon. Subsequent attempts to reach the owner were unsuccessful, and redbankgreen has yet to hear back from borough officials with details about the Jan. 25 incident and Monday’s meeting.

Cullity, in an interview late last week, suggested that the capacity figure was set by the borough’s Parking Authority, but that the venue had been allowed by the fire department to function with many more patrons,
provided that the crowd behaved in an orderly fashion. Cullity said the Jan. 25 set by Bayshore-based Bring Forth Vengeance was halted after he saw some moshpit-style dancing was getting out of hand.

Cullity believes that the venue posed no disturbance to neighbors, and did the community a service by providing young people a safe and fun place in which to get creative and socialize. That’s a view echoed on the iCafé’s MySpace page, which has attracted RIP-themed comments from friends and patrons.

Cullity’s long-term prognosis for the downtown is not a sunny one. Watching the luxury custom-bike boutique Von Dutch pull up stakes and vacate its West Front Street space last week, the the software designer and former chief of the online NJ Coast News bemoaned the lack of mom-and-pop merchants to anchor the neighborhood when the upscale shops come and go. “The old-boy network in this town has done a bad job reaching out to the veteran businesspeople.”

Still, he hopes to be back.

“Right now I’m about ready to hide beneath the covers for two or three months,” Cullity told redbankgreen with a smile. “But I’ll come back in a new location. I’ve been part of the local music community for years. The music will continue; I just don’t know where right now.”

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