Word spreads fast in Hudson County. By last Wednesday, the band The Super Karaoke Fun Band had heard that their show scheduled for Thursday night had been canceled. Permanently. Thursday morning, Uncle Joe’s bar on First Street in downtown Jersey City was closed. By Friday there were postings on an on-line website with testimonials, some sad, some angry, from former patrons of Uncle Joe’s. In any case, it’s bad news for local bands that used to play there and worse for people who considered it their home.
John Chiodi, one of the owners of Uncle Joe’s, said that the property was bought by developers. He said it was only a matter of time before they were forced out of the area. However, he still owns the liquor license.
“I thought it was something cool. Hopefully, I’ll find a new location, so there is a place for artists and musicians,” Chiodi said.
Chiodi bought the bar in 2001, when it was a gay nightclub. Soon, they brought live acts and turned it into a low-key downtown bar populated by cutting-edge rock acts and young neighborhood regulars.
“I couldn’t have done it without [bartender] Joe Condiracci. When I bought the club, I asked him what we should do. I give him all the credit for making it happen.”
Chiodi was impressed by the band Rye Coalition, the local band from Jersey City.
“I really enjoyed going in there and seeing the excitement of the bands. When Rye Coalition got noticed, the other bands looked at them and saw what they could aspire to,” Chiodi said.
When asked if he knew the origin of the tavern’s name, Chiodi said he didn’t know. “I know I was the fourth owner and that it was owned by a family and passed down. But I think the name on the license was Walter,” said Chiodi.
Joe Condiracci, former bartender of Uncle Joe’s, worked the bar for nine years. Condiracci also was the last act to play on Monday for Open Mic Night.
“I’m sorry to see it go,” he said. “I felt like it was my baby. You can have an idea and make it work, and have no control.”
One of the first things he did to make it work was to hire Chris Ward, formerly of Maxwell’s, to book the bands. When Chris Ward left for California, Shaun Towey took over, who then passed the reins over to Neil Mcaneny, and finally to Billy “Filo” Murphy, who was the last to book the bands. Condiracci said they maintained the same level of quality from when they first started the venture.
“We were gaining momentum, not losing, and that’s the shame of it,” he said.
Key bands from Hudson County and New Brunswick played at the bar. Uncle Joe’s hosted the Ankles, the Alphamales, Sparks Fly from a Kiss, Dirt Bike Annie, and the Rules. Several of the bands not only performed there, they hung out there. According to Condiracci, most of the bands were also playing bigger venues like Mercury Lounge, Piano’s, and Fez. For instance, Rye Coalition toured with Queens of the Stone Age and came home to play at Uncle Joe’s.
Condiracci described the atmosphere as dynamic. He said everyone who came to the bar was there to have a good time. It became home to a lot of talented people. Condiracci recalled working on Sept. 11, a month after the club had switched to the current owners. He went to work not sure if they would reopen it.
“We did open, and everyone was really glad we did, because no one wanted to be alone that night,” Condiracci said. “People were walking in covered with dust and glad to be alive. It was healing for them to be with other people.”
By the fall of 2002, Uncle Joe’s was given street credit when they were awarded New York Press’s award for Best NY Rock Club in New Jersey.
On the map
“We were on the map. The word was out. People were coming,” Condiracci said.
When asked what he would do now, Condiracci spoke of his own music. He has been playing guitar since third grade and writing his own music since he was 17. Growing up, he was influenced by Pete Townsend, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, and U2. His newfound free time will give him the chance to focus on his tunes, including some of the 30 songs you might have heard him perform.
But the question is: Where will everyone go now? Uncle Joe’s was the last indie rock club in Jersey City. Is it back to Maxwell’s in Hoboken? Will the owners find a new spot and re-open someday? “I’m confident we’ll all land on our feet, because we are all good at what we do,” said Condiracci