The Dutchman’s Celebrates in Final Days Before Renovation
The Dutchman’s and The Quelle will be closing for two years for a renovation, but last weekend people had the opportunity to get together to share memories, to play music, and to salute the bar that has hosted many a party in its 64 years of operation.
The week before the event, the marquee outside The Dutchman’s announced that “all are welcome” for its Labor Day Weekend Renovation Celebration Party. As the date of the party approached, though, so did Hurricane Hermine. Maybe “all” would really mean only those brave enough to endure the high winds and the rain. The party and the hurricane seemed destined for a showdown.
But on Monday night, the final night of the weekend-long event, the storm seemed to be enjoying its stay off our coastline, hovering above the party like a cold shoulder. The low-hanging slate-gray clouds and the sound of the high tide crashing against The Quelle, the outdoor dock bar behind The Dutchman’s, actually provided a nice backdrop for the event.
Equally pleasant were the bossa nova inspired jazz pickings of guitarist Pat Karwan, who started playing at 6 p.m. sharp and promised to play until the last drink of the night was served, according to Judy Leone, Karwan’s partner and “sometimes roadie.” Leone and Karwan drove in separate cars to the event, Leone knowing it could be a late night for Karwan.
Karwan has played regularly at The Dutchman’s for five years. In that time, he has made a lot of friends at the restaurant, friends who regularly come up to him while he’s playing and chat with him while his fingers crawl all over the fret board. “I like the people here,” he said. Karwan also likes the freedom he has at The Dutchman’s to play what he wants to play. He needs that freedom because, he said, “my music goes all over place – like, I was playing Take 5 earlier. And they never bother me about what I play.” In addition to jazz standards, Karwan played Otis Redding, Steely Dan and his own music on Monday night.
Throughout the night, Karwan was joined by a carousel of talented musicians who have regularly played the venue. He was joined on stage by Allison Stella, Todd Meredith, Dave Jones, Tony Pileggi, Rob Cavallo, Ron Olander, Tommy McDonald from the Blues Brothers, Brian Eastburn, and Chris Brunkhardt from the Danksters. David Schmid, owner of The Dutchman’s, said it was an opportunity to “give people who gave to us the chance to play one last shot.”
They all put the locals at the bar in the right mood to reminisce about good times at the restaurant over the years.
Dennis Kirby, who was a bartender at The Dutchman’s for 12 years, is pretty sure he still has the bright red vest all the male bartenders had to wear in the 1980s. “I loved that vest ‘cause it was a hard job and the vest took all the punishment.” Kirby said the job entailed “carrying cases all over the place, pimping out kegs. I remember we used to have to bring the kegs out to the bar on a handcart and tap the keg right out in front of everybody.” The vests were stylish, as Kirby recalls. “They had gold metal buttons, and a gold chain that went right across the chest.” The uniform also included a blue tie adorned with edelweiss.
Given the dates of Kirby’s employment at The Dutchman’s, it’s possible he was the bartender at Scott and Jean Lightcab’s wedding, which was held in the banquet room on the second floor of The Dutchman’s. “The sunset was incredible,” Jean recalled. “It was the perfect evening.” Scott was the driving force behind the decision to hold the wedding at The Dutchman’s. A regular trip to the restaurant is, in his family, a tradition. He took Jean there on one of their first dates, in February 1985. Now the couple lives in Beach Haven West, just across the bay, and Scott regularly watched Monday Night Football at the bar while his black Lab waited patiently in Scott’s boat for a halftime snack – usually a hot dog. With The Dutchman’s closing for two years, Scott is not sure where he’ll watch the games this fall.
For Ron Renna, a regular patron of The Dutchman’s, the bar is a family tradition as well. He has been coming there for 40 years, since he was 7 years old. His parents got engaged at The Dutchman’s in 1967. His great-grandfather Jack “would come to the bar and buy everyone a drink in 1961 and ’62, then he’d get dragged out at the end of the night with no money. That’s why I’m here tonight,” he said with a salute.
On Monday night, people did not seem worried that the renovation would ruin the atmosphere at the bar, or that the change would be too dramatic. For the most part, they were saying goodbye because they would miss the place for the next two years, and they had to figure out where to go in the interim.
Karwan, for instance, is working on finding his next regular gig. He said that ever since DWI enforcement ramped up in the mid-’80s, “it’s like they turned off the spigot” for the bands he used to play in. That’s why he mostly plays solo these days. “The older crowds stopped going out. Kids still think they’re invincible, they think they’ll never get a DUI; they just don’t know any better. A lot of the places that cater to the 21- to 25-year-old crowd are still popular, but not as many. All the clubs that tolerated a band like my band, a 10-piece band playing funk jazz or something, the people that came to see us just weren’t coming out anymore.” He still has a hard time finding gigs where he can play what he wants to play.
Karwan, who has been playing guitar professionally for 55 years, has some conditions for the next gig he takes. “I’ll never play a place where I see a bouncer. If you need a bouncer, you don’t need me. And I don’t play at places where they make you take breaks, because I don’t take breaks.”
His music also doesn’t lend itself to a loud sports bar. He recalls one bar he played at, “the guy said we want to do a real quality thing. Well, the first time I’m playing there, they’ve got three big-screen TVs and they’ve got – what is that friggin’ thing where they beat each other until – some boxing thing– anyway, this guy is like bloodying some guy up on screen while people are eating their meal. I’m like, you really got a lot of culture going.”
As Karwan turns his attention to looking for a good replacement for the friendly culture and easygoing atmosphere at The Dutchman’s, he can at least rest assured that he is in good company doing so.
— Tim Hone