By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The local music scene took another hit last week with the closing of My Room Lounge in Massapequa on Jan. 1. The little stucco Spanish-styled bar on the south side of Merrick Road had become the hotspot last year when promoter Tom Conklin began his "Lush Life Thursdays" there. Bands like the Pristeens and the Slackers attracted so many kids that lines wrapped around the block. Unfortunately, the new hipster crowd proved to be a fickle one and began to disappear nearly as fast as it had materialized, marking the beginning the of the end for the bar.
My Room owner Bernie Anatra, 50, who says he bought the 36-year-old bar four years ago from the original owner for $130,000, made the decision to permanently close the doors last month.
"I saw it comingI couldn't get a regular clientele," says Anatra. "I could bang out some really good nights and make some money, but I couldn't get them to keep coming back."
Anatra's original clientele was an older crowd, retirees from the area. They made his first three years of business successful, but it didn't last. "I was doing really well with them, but with the new DWI laws and cars being taken away, they went from four drinks a night to one," says Anatra. "And then half of them died and the other half moved to Florida. So I switched over to a young crowd."
When "Lush Life" originally moved in, the joint was always jumping. Thursday nights became Anatra's bread and butter, so he figured he'd take a chance and started bringing in bands for weekend engagements.
"I decided to throw my dice and see what happens," he says. "So I got rid of the remaining old crowd, figuring it would work. After three months it started to dwindle to the point that people would walk through the door, look in, say it was dead and walk right out. It didn't last. We were the flavor of the month."
But his finicky clientele and the new DWI laws weren't the only hurdles that Anatra needed to clear to keep his bar out of the red. Fire codes restricted the maximum crowd in his 1,800-square-foot space to 65. With patrons buying fewer drinks, Anatra needed more bodies, not fewer.
His fate was sealed.
"In a place like this, when I've got to pay $600 to a band and I'm ringing up $1,000 at the bar, what's the sense?" says Anatra. "The bands and promoters, they don't understand. I've got employees to pay, insurance, LIPA. Add all that into the equation, if I net $400 it all goes right out the door. I couldn't generate revenue because the place is too small. I can't compete with a place like Nipper Tandy's down the block that can hold 300 people.
"I tried to revitalize it by doing this, that and the other thing, but you don't take good money and throw it after bad money. The party is over. You've got to know when to go home. Take the lampshade off your head, sober up and go home."
SHE DID IT HER WAY
Local musicians could take a lesson from Martha Trachtenberg. The 46-year-old folk singer from Northport has finally released her solo debut album, It's About Time, and its lack of trendiness is refreshing.
Let's face it. The Island music scene is like an overstuffed pig, packed with schlock-laden wanna-be bands and their trust-funded members trying to become the new Chili Peppers or Third Eye Blind. They take daddy's money, rush into the highest-priced studio and release load after load of insufferable crap. And the record companies know it. But this means nothing to Trachtenberg, who after nearly 30 years of music-making, makes her living as a freelance editor and now does her music for no one but herself.
"It's not coming from a place where this has to be the end-all and be-all, vis-à-vis a career, it's not," says Trachtenberg about the album. "I have a 7-year-old son. I'm not looking to find a new career.
"For years, I was writing songs that I thought other people would want to cut. I was trying to pitch songs. That doesn't work. So I started writing about what was important to me. That's when people react the most."
The new album, which was recorded over the past two years at Mark Hubbard's Coconut Grove studio in Smithtown, is a pastiche of homegrown folk, county and bluegrass that highlights her haunting voice. Her guitar-playing husband, Tom Griffith, plays on most the tracks, along with several local artists Trachtenberg has met through the Island Songwriters Showcase, the Folk Music Society of Huntington and the Huntington Acoustic Revue. The album also features several big-name recording artists, friends whom Trachtenberg has made since she began playing professionally in the early '70s. Her old banjo-teacher-turned-virtuoso Tony Trishka, who also taught Bela Fleck his chops, makes an appearance, as well as jazz bassist Eddie Gomez, vocalist Michael Johnson and mandolin whiz Marty Stuart.
Stuart, whom Trachtenberg first met in 1974 at Lester Flatt's bluegrass festival in North Carolina, gave her the best advice she received. "Last year, when I got together with Marty," she recalls, "I was whining about how long the album was taking. He looked at me and said, 'You've waited 20 years to do this. Take your time, do it right and you won't have any regrets about it.' "
Take note, young moneybags: Trachtenberg did it right. *