IN TUNE: Open mic isn’t usually my thing, but I had plenty of good reasons to give it a shot: Steve Grace, an ultra-laid-cool guy who owns the ultra-cool Guitar Boutique in Ridgefield, and a trio of local legends who own and operate the Westside Village Tavern in Ridgefield Park.
You remember The Zoo? A few years ago, it became Westside, thanks to beloved barkeep Jack “Schmidty” Schmidt and his partners, Frank Myslivecek and Rick Di Manno.
In a world of chain restaurants and characterless wine bars, these guys have taken one of the area’s oldest taverns and designed a space specifically for people — like us — who want a more comfortable alternative.
What’s more, every Christmas they host “Gifts for GIs,” launched by Dan “Bortie” Greco, which has become a tradition in the proud, working-class village that – bet you didn’t know – is surrounded on three sides by water.
Denise Pars is Westside’s barmaid, manager, hostess, and marketing guru. In fact, if they had valet service, she’d probably do that, too! Denise welcomes you with a genuine smile, letting you settle in and focus first before asking what you’ll have. She also seems to know the answer to any question you could ask.
None of it would work if Westside didn’t attract talented entertainment. Thanks in large part to Steven Grace Najemian, they got that covered, too.
Remember when open mic and karaoke nights were dominated by amateurs who wanted nothing more than a turn in the spotlight? Not anymore. Hives like Westside are becoming THE place to enjoy professional entertainment without traffic, tolls, parking problems, bad seats, overpriced food — and, at the end of the night, an empty wallet.
Imagine strolling in to a nearby establishment on a Tuesday night, like we did last week, and enjoying LOCAL music played by professionals.
The special guests of the evening, Bobby Messano and Steve Geller, went on first, rocking the house with a bluesy set. No surprise there: Bobby is a Grammy-nominated guitarist who has played with Steve Winwood, among others. Steve, who plays bass, has performed with Davey Jones of the Monkees.
Little did we realize this was just a warm-up.
Mr. Grace, charming host that he is, handed out drumsticks, bongos, tambourines and other music makers, including a salsa can (could he tell I’m Cuban?). It all made perfect sense when the musicians broke into “Give Peace a Chance.”
In a clever way, Steve broke the ice for both the audience and those who came to play.
Although the evening’s performers did some sweet cover songs, most of their material was original.
John Freund caught my attention, with an angelic voice and lyrics that clearly touched those who, like me, were REALLY listening. The best of his gems is called “Someone Else’s Love Song.” Beautiful.
I hope this doesn’t in any way scare off anyone who wants to show up and sing. The hosts are always looking for performers, and the night never ends without a jam session.
NO COVER OR MINIMUM, either.
And although the Tuesday night performances usually run from 8 to midnight, no one’s throwing you out.
The Sunday afternoon shows with The Pick-Ups are a blast, too, from 2 – 6 on the back deck. It’s a beautiful spot for a Sunday lunch or early dinner.
If you do stop by and just so happen to find me at my new favorite getaway – a distinct possibility on Tuesday nights – be sure to say hello.
Meanwhile, bookmark these links:
Steven Grace’s Guitar Boutiqueis not your average music shop. Located at 611 Bergen Blvd. in Ridgefield (201-945-5577), it truly is a guitar emporium. Steve buys and sells new and vintage guitars, drums and amps, gives lessons, repairs instruments and will even deejay or supply a band for your party – any size affair. “I think I was an American Indian once,” he says. “At least that’s the way I think: Respect and no waste. I love nature and music. To ride a wave, harvest a veggie or see the flowers you helped grow. Watch a bird or put out food for them. To walk the line, pull your weight, take care of your family. Play and sing a song.” Steve also heads GRACE (General Relief Aid 4 Children Essentials), which most recently sent several low-income youngsters to a local dentist for X-rays and cleanings. Cool guy, right?
Lynn Paret‘s gallery of paintings is extensive – and, for you, exclusive. The spirit moves her, and the brush dances in her hand. Name the artist, band or celebrity. If that person isn’t already in Lynn’s gallery, he or she will become the latest addition. Or maybe you’d like a custom-painted portrait of you or a loved one — or you AND a loved one. Your choice: CLICK HERE….