The Club Is No Longer Open: Memories of Maxwell’s

[The following is a guest post from Christopher Harris.  As a native New Jerseyian and an indie-rock fan since the early days, he has a special attachment to Maxwell’s and everything it represents. He shared his thoughts below.]

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Today is August 1, 2013 which means that Maxwell’s is officially closed.  Recently we’ve been bombarded with articles about the closing and history of the now legendary Hoboken bar and restaurant.  I still have yet to come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to see another band in what is considered to be one of the best clubs in the NYC area.  I thought I’d talk a little about the best show I ever saw there, Guided By Voices on December 30, 2010.

I have been to Maxwell’s more times than I can count at this point.  I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs and missed out on City Gardens (which closed in the 90s).  When I was in high school, Asbury Park’s The Stone Pony closed for a few years. Unless you wanted to see cover bands or travel to New York or Philly to catch a band, we were only left with Birch Hill to see live bands (until it closed in the early 2000s).  


I discovered Maxwell’s in college when I heard that Yo La Tengo was going to be doing eight shows for Hanukkah. I ventured from NYC to Washington Street and 11th Street for the first time.  I got way too drunk and really don’t remember much about the show except that it was a really cool venue.

Fast forward to 2010: the year of 90’s indie rock reunions.  That fall, I had seen Superchunk, Pavement and Guided by Voices within a few weeks of each other.  The Guided By Voices show was at Terminal 5 which has a reputation for being one of the worst music venues in New York City and I left very disappointed.  I had seen GBV twice before they broke up and they sounded pretty bad on this reunion. But I figured it was the venue, not the band.  


A few weeks later, the band announced a New Years Eve show at Irving Plaza. I already had plans for that night so I had to skip this show.  Days before the show was to take place, they announced a warm up show at Maxwell’s the night before and I knew I had to go.  I have never before (or after) spent as much for two tickets to a club show then for this one but it was absolutely worth it.  

[image by Christopher Harris]When you charge $85 per ticket for a bar with a 200 person capacity you are pretty much going to guarantee that only the biggest fans show up and that they did.  

I started off in the way back of the room but somehow was pushed into the very front by the end of the night.  They played for hours, only the classic era material. Every single person in the room was hammered as they sang the words to every single song. It was probably the most respectful crowd I have ever encountered.  If anyone had their phones out, they were mindful of those fans around them as to not disrupt the line of vision straight to the band. I have not seen this type of respect ever before or anytime since.   

I’ve gone to many other Guided By Voices shows and many shows at Maxwell’s since but none have compared to that night.  The venue may move to Jersey City but who knows if it will be the same.  Brooklyn is where you have to see bands now. But for a while, New Jersey had a unique place that wasn’t filled with memories of Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi and for that I thank everyone that helped make Maxwell’s what it was.

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Today, Maxwell’s is closing and the interwebs weep

Today is the last day of July.
Today is also the day Maxwell’s is closing.
Today is a sad day.

I posted my feelings after the initial announcement so I really don’t have anything else to say. But I wanted to share some links I’ve come across in the past couple of days about the closing.

NJ.com has written a few pieces about the closing. Here is one.

BrooklynVegan posted a 20 minute documentary about the historic venue, including interviews with a lot of the key people.

Here is an article from Bloomberg that I first saw on Facebook. It categorizes the “rift” between “Maxwell’s Rock Fans” and “Hoboken Moms.”

New York Magazine published an oral history of the venue in their most recent issue.

Here is a post from Stereogum that made me very sad. Especially this quote:

Abramson has made it clear the issue isn’t monetary, but a wrong place, wrong time sort of deal. Hoboken has changed. “You wanna be the town with Cake Boss or you wanna be the town with Maxwell’s?” says McCall. “Ultimately the town made the decision that Cake Boss outweighed Maxwell’s.”


Gothamist posted The Best Bands Played At Maxwell’s (live videos of Nirvana, Replacements, Bob Mould, Black Keys, and others playing in the back room).

Hopefully the Maxwell’s spirit will live on forever…even if the Washington Street location is turned into some kind of generic sports bar or something.  

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.

NJ.com 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).