RIP Maxwell’s: An Appreciation

Every day, it seems blogs like Gothamist report that a Lower East Side or NYC institution is closing. Former great dive bars and now changing into condos for the wealthy. Other great bars are being pushed out to Brooklyn. reported that Maxwell’s will be closing at the end of July. When I first read this story yesterday, I was very upset. It is just like another victim of change.

As a resident of New Jersey, I’ve really come to appreciate this place.  It is located about 6 miles from my apartment. The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail can take me there in about 10 minutes. They have good food, cheap beer, friendly bartenders, and have hosted some great shows.  It is like an oasis from the rest of Hoboken.  It was only a matter of time that this venue that has been open since the late 1970s would shut it doors.

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I first went to Maxwell’s in 2007 to see Jesse Lacey (of Brand New) and Kevin Devine play an acoustic show.  I had never been to Hoboken. I hated New Jersey.  But a friend of mine had an extra ticket to this show so I jumped at the chance. I traveled from my house in Queens, through to the tunnel to this unknown location.  30 minutes later, I was in New Jersey.  

Probably for the only time ever, I easily pulled into a parking spot right on Washington Street. When I got to the venue, I was immediately struck by how unique this place was. The front felt like an old restaurant. The walls had exposed brick and they were lined with interesting artwork.  There was no stage in sight.

After our dinner and cocktails, we traveled to the backroom. I was shocked with how tiny the venue was.  It was smaller than any NYC venue I had never been to.  It had a different feel. It felt like people really wanted to be there.

We stood on the bleachers near the sound booth and strapped in for what was one of the best acoustic shows I had ever seen. Even now, I remember how personal the vibe of the room felt.  People yelled out questions during lulls in the set.  Everyone was attentive and sang along.  I felt like I was experiencing something truly memorable with 200 of my closest friends.  As I write this, I am shocked that I remember it so well.

Suddenly, I didn’t mind New Jersey.

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Since that show in 2007, I’ve probably been to about a half a dozen shows there.  There was Ted Leo on New Years Eve, Dum Dum Girls, and a lot more I can’t remember. I will never forget those 3 Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows, which were all a cornucopia of  surprise special guests and covers. Where else could I have seen a lecture about fake Beatles bands (by WFMU DJ Gaylord Fields) opening for underrated indie band Yo La Tengo.

In a scene where everything seems to be mostly the same, Maxwell’s was something else.

Here is a video from that show in 2007 when I really fell in love with Maxwell’s. 

I will miss it dearly.

If you’re interested, Wikipedia has a history of Maxwell’s.And if you have not had a chance to go there yet, please do. It is a gem of a place. And soon it will be gone forever (or until it relocates).


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