By TOM CHESEK
They got into the bar business in Asbury Park not so much to become a place of pilgrimage for tourists from all over the world, but to make a buck — and when the receipts were totaled on the very snowy opening night of Feb. 8,1974, they famously added up to just that: $1.
Principal owner Jack Roig and partner Robert “Butch” Pielka established The Stone Pony as their contribution to the Circuit club/ concert venue landscape — but even as many another waterfront nightspot came and went from the scene, it was The Stone Pony that would join the likes of LA’s Whisky-A-Go-Go and NYC’s CBGB on the short list of truly iconic rock bars.
While it’s still sometimes misconstrued as the place where Bruce Springsteen (by then a major label recording artist with two albums and hundreds of gigs under his belt) “got his start,” the working-class watering hole at Ocean and Second Avenues was where the various elements of a signature Sound and a scene came together; timed to the ascendance of the Boss’s star, and the still-popular destination town’s last blaze of glory in the 20th century. Bar bands/ cover bands and DJ spins would remain the bread ‘n butter throughout those early years; punctuated every so often by touring recording acts and, those “surprise” jams by Asbury Park’s latest and greatest breakout musical mover and shaker.
More than anything else, it was the development of the resident “house” act The Blackberry Booze Band — the combo that would evolve into The Asbury Jukes — that would truly set the place apart, and perhaps more than anything help rescue the floundering fledgling Pony from foreclosure as the club’s first birthday approached. By the end of the original owners’ tenure, Bruce had attained the pantheon and pinnacle of American music; Johnny and the Jukes were themselves a veteran major label act; the Stone Pony had tangibly boosted the careers of music makers from the hyperlocal front to the nationwide frontier — and the Asbury Circuit, crippled by (among other things) the mid-80s raising of the legal drinking age, had entered its most dismal chapter, there in the final years of the millennium past.
Another fairly common misconception — that the Stone Pony had been a beacon of continuity — is contradicted by the brief and nearly forgotten rebranding of the building as a dance club named Vinyl, followed soon thereafter by the silence of a place that was shuttered, abandoned, and rumored for a meeting with the wrecking ball. The story of the Pony’s 21st century comeback — its celebrated re-opening, its manifest-destiny expansion as a destination outdoor concert venue, its soldiering on in the face of new and often unforeseen challenges — is a story for another Day in Asbury Park History.