Promotional video for proposed Iron Bistro disabled, at request of Iron Bar and Morristown Medical Center.
By Berit Ollestad
Grammy nominee John Ginty has played a lot of gigs. But it’s pretty rare when he plays music star and star witness in the same night.
Moments before taking the stage Wednesday at Morristown High School, his alma mater, in a retirement tribute to his former music teacher, Ginty testified in town hall on behalf of the Iron Bar’s proposed expansion.
“Morristown is missing an element and I believe that element is a room that can hold a national touring band like myself, that has a stage and has a sound system that is top notch, and I have seen the proposed plans, and they are,” Ginty told the town council, which heard three hours of spirited arguments for and against Jimmy Cavanaugh’s proposed Iron Bistro.
The council will hear more comments about plans for the 242-seat bistro — pitched as a combination restaurant/bar/jazz & blues venue — on July 16.
Cavanaugh seeks permission to extend the Iron Bar’s liquor license into adjacent South Street storefronts that formerly housed a CUPS frozen yogurt shop and the Zebu Forno cafe.
In 2012, Cavanaugh obtained permission to extend that license to create a Mexican restaurant–with the proviso that it cease serving alcohol at 11 pm. Cavanaugh contends that curfew is unfair, and his new proposal aims to repeal it.
At least 14 residents have raised objections, citing fears that another bar will exacerbate problems caused by drunken bar crowds in their neighborhoods.
One of those residents, Tricia Rosenkilde, said she would welcome a downtown music venue. But she expressed doubts about the Iron Bistro’s true colors.
“Why not close it at midnight? I mean, that’s what all the other restaurants do,” Rosenkilde said. “What will prevent the proposed Iron Bistro from morphing more into a bar?”
If it’s really a jazz and blues club, she added, shouldn’t those words be included in the venture’s name?
Rosenkilde thanked officials for new parking restrictions that she credits with reducing bar-related problems in her neighborhood–though she still sees drunks “having sex at 2 in the morning on Macculloch Avenue across from my house.”
Resident of 40 Park states concerns about Iron Bistro.
Attorney Robert C. Williams, representing the Iron Bistro, said the establishment first and foremost will be a restaurant, which is permitted by the town’s zoning law.
“The plans that were submitted to you met each and every requirement of the [alcohol control] board as a restaurant,” said Williams, citing a recent article that attributed much of Morristown’s revitalization to restaurants.
Most of the opposition is from a handful of people in the 40 Park luxury condos, the attorney said.
“You have received no objection from the fire department, no objection from the building department, no objection from the health department and no objection from the police department,” Williams told the council.
He said less than 20 percent of the Iron Bistro’s seating would be at the bar, which he described as a “dining bar”–an emerging trend of wider bars where business travelers and single people can dine comfortably without the stigma of sitting alone at a table.
Williams further asserted that the Iron Bar has had no liquor law violations since it opened in May 2012.
“They have operated their facility legally and should be given the same ability to expand their business, just as others in town have been given,” the lawyer said.
If the Iron Bistro request is approved, Cavanaugh said he would agree to seek no occupancy increases for the Iron Bistro or the Iron Bar. The Iron Bar legally can accommodate 1,043 people, he said.
To bolster its case, the Iron Bistro team presented a seven-minute video (above) depicting trendy industrial architecture, a menu with roast wild boar and Long Island duck, and a possible entertainment roster of drumming legend Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Grover Kemble (formerly with Za Zu Zaz), Rob Paparozzi (formerly with Blood, Sweat & Tears) and Anthony Krizan (former Spin Doctor).
A number of 30-somethings at the meeting seemed eager for a jazz club. One recent transplant from Maryland said such an addition might sway her parents to move here too.
Resident Abby Nykun said Morristown needs someplace that appeals to her mom’s age bracket.
“I don’t currently feel comfortable recommending any of the current places in town to my mom when she comes to visit. But with the proposed Iron Bistro being approved, I could go and join her and have a nice bonding experience,” Nykun said.
‘OLDEST TRICK IN THE BOOK’
Paul Viggiano, who has established credentials as a chef and a sax player, is working with Cavanaugh. That held some weight with John Ginty, a Morristown native who has toured and recorded with acts like the Dixie Chicks, Jewel, Robert Randolph, Santana and the late Lou Reed.
“I have known Paul for a long time and I know he is going to do it the right way, and musicians like myself can come here and play and really appreciate it,” said Ginty, a former drummer known for his percussive style on the Hammond B3 organ.
His parents still live in town, and he fondly recalled boyhood bike trips to the late, great Scotti’s Records. As Morristown’s landscape has evolved, so has Ginty’s fan base.
“I don’t play to 18-21 year olds anymore more, I wish I did. The demographics that I draw is an older age bracket and these folks have certain expectations when they come out to see shows like this,” he said.
“They expect top notch food, top notch wine and top notch entertainment. In all the places I have done this, our shows start at 9:30-10 pm at night, because these folks want their time with one another at the table. They’ve been doing it like this forever. It’s the oldest trick in the book and it works: ‘Dinner and a show,’” Ginty said, before dashing off to his show.
–Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.