Thursday, July 14, 2011

Banjo Jim's space to become home to an 'artisanal neighborhood cocktail bar'


Banjo Jim's is on the docket for Monday night's CB3/SLA meeting. Banjo Jim's opened in December 2005, and the small space quickly became a well-known spot for live (and inexpensive) Americana, bluegrass and jazz music.

Lisa Zwier-Croce named the space for her husband, the musician James Casmire Kaminski Croce (Banjo Jim), who died in a car accident in January 2003.

However, we understand that Lisa is moving on, and Rob Ceraso and his business partner hope to get the OK for the liquor-license transfer.

"The space has sentimental value to me," Ceraso said via email. "Not only have I been coming to Banjo's for bluegrass for the last five years, but my wife and I also celebrated our wedding across the street at La Plaza Cultural Garden four years ago ... with musicians that I met at Banjo's."

Ceraso, who runs White Noise on Avenue B with Timothy Falzone, provided us with details about what they have planned for Banjo Jim's. The working name — The James Daniel.

"We are calling ourselves an 'artisanal neighborhood cocktail bar,' which I know is a mouth full," only because I couldn't think of another label that necessarily fit what we'd like to create," Ceraso said. "Cocktail bar in the sense that we will offer beautifully rendered cocktails, putting care into ingredients and making as much as we can from scratch."

"Neighborhood bar in the sense that we are trying to do what we do with the same spirit of creativity mixed with a tinge of rebelliousness that has existed in the neighborhood for the last 60 years or more. We're not putting ourselves on [that] level, but if we can do our thing with the spirit of creativity that existed ... then that would be cool with us."

A few other details...

Food:
"We'd like to push the limits a little of what you can create with a small convection oven and a couple of induction cooktops," he said. "It will be a learning experience for us and I'm sure everything won't be awesome, but I can promise it will be interesting and made with care."

Live music:
"We thought it would be great to be able to honor it with an occasional "Banjo Jim's" night of music. We're thinking of something weekly or monthly as well as possibly having some piano and fiddle, etc. for happy hour from time to time. Whatever we end up doing it will be pretty low-key. We would always plan it for earlier than later and we aren't getting any of the amplification equipment from Banjo's. All we're hoping to hang onto is the old piano."

The block:
"We love the block, the two gardens around us and the neighborhood. To us it embodies the same bohemian sensibilities that used to exist everywhere downtown. [Avenue] C seems like it's becoming the last refuge for everyone escaping the craziness and fratty takeover of the LES. We'd like to be part of that refuge and maybe help to remind people a little of what the spirit of the neighborhood still is to a lot of us."

In closing...

"If we're doing our thing right, neighbors can come in and talk about and enjoy some food, drink, music and neighborhood culture."

[Banjo Jim's photo via Down Home Radio]

48 comments:

Jeremiah Moss said...

"artisanal" is today's version of what "gourmet" was in the 1980s. it means expensive and exclusive. it doesn't really go with rebellious and bohemian.

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

Mr M beat me to it. I was gonna say that nothing says 'rebellious' like an 'artisinal cocktail.'

blue glass said...

rebellious and bohemian are today's buzz words for loud and entitled but no longer hip.

Robert Ceraso said...

Just to clarify, I have no affiliation with White Noise other than the fact that it's owner Timothy and I have been friends for 20 years.
I used artisanal in it's most basic definition, which is "hand made", because we will be making a lot of our ingredients likes jams, bitters and sodas ourselves.
We'll try not to be too expensive. We are in Alphabet City after all.
Regards,
Rob Ceraso

glamma said...

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

glamma said...

F*CK!!!!!!!!! Banjo Jim's is one of the LEAST PRETENTIOUS, LEAST EXPENSIVE, AND MOST DOWN TO EARTH places left in alphabet city. you can get a greta glass of wine for 6 bucks and hear great bluegrass for FREE. How the F*CK does an ARTISANAL COCKTAIL BAR have anything to do with rebellion or bohemia!!!! OR have anything at all to do with the history of alphabet city!!! WHITE NOISE is one of the frattiest places around! I've been thee and it is TERRIBLE. Completely jam packed with like literally a thousand NYU'er's in college shirts slamming light beers and the whole place stinks like PUKE EVERY NIGHT. Seriously what the F*CK is this guy talking about??? Rob Ceraso I HATE YOU ALREADY. D*CKHEAD.

Bowery Boogie said...

missing banjo jim's already. artisinal is one of those buzz words that makes me puke every time.

glamma said...

GOD. I've barely gotten over losing 9C! Before it was Banjo Jim's it was an awesome punk rock bar! It was LEGIT. And now THIS! Just an utter abomination.

Anonymous said...

It's nice that the proprietor seems interested in appealing to the neighborhood, but it's still just a pretentious-sounding cocktail bar. Banjo Jim's, by contrast, is an awesome, one-of-a-kind place. I hate everything about this, but what else is new around here.

esquared said...

yeah, but are the cocktails farm-to-table?

artisanal has been used as a marketing buzz word to describe or imply an association with the crafting of hand made food products, such as bread, tofu, beverages and cheese.

so, if that's the case, aren't all cocktails 'hand made' and thus are artisanal

Little Earthquake said...

Rebellious? Bohemian? Artisanal? LMAO. Never before was it made clearer what this cultural battle is all about: hollow buzz words that romanticize a past long gone and never as amazing as people today believe. Either you're for the "rebellious, bohemian" heyday of the 60's, 70's and 80's, or the "artisanal, crafted" salad days of a century ago. Either way, you've chosen allegiance with a past that's never really existed. While the "freaks vs. yuppies" (boogie men if there ever were) showdown carries on in your minds, the NYC of today carries on, for better or for worse. I recommend living for today.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that all the negative commentators can't appreciate what is to come... It makes sense, I guess you have never been to a Ceraso establishment.

You'll all be knocking down the doors...just wait!

Anonymous said...

Good God. Here's someone who understands and appreciates the neighborhood. This isn't someone hellbent on opening Billy Hurricanes II. I like the sound of the neighborhood premise — as long as the beer isn't too expensive!

Anonymous said...

"[Avenue] C seems like it's becoming the last refuge for everyone escaping the craziness and fratty takeover of the LES. "

Are you trying to avoid any kind of resistance with this line? You certainly know how to manipulate.

So, basically you're ruining the spot, making it expensive and for the rich people who bought small condos for big money, and claiming it to be a refuge?

Nothing you described sounds like a refuge of the frat house the east village has become; it does sound like a cash cow though.

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

"Can't appreciate what is to come." A "Ceruso establishment." Oy vey. How very 'artisanal neighborhood cocktail bar"-ish. Sounds like the concept was developed by Mr. Belvedere.

Anonymous said...

Artisanal? After Ceruso reads this he'll change his press release copy. However, the buzz will be the same - intended for the money stuffed pockets of those with money stuffed pockets ready to be emptied by those who use words like artisanal.
(where do these words come from?)
I liked Banjo's
I wold typically meet the musicians as they were heading home after gigging while hanging on the street.
They were usually nice, bright young people who loved to chat up a slug on the street. I've been evicted since a while, and wish the east village would go away. I'm so perturbed by the way it is being hammered by investors.

Anonymous said...

I loved Banjo Jim's too but if it's owners are moving on then i will too. I'm looking forward to seeing what Rob Ceraso and company do with the space. It'll be really nice to get a great cocktail without having to sit in a pretentious spot in Midtown. I'm looking forward to seeing the end result here. I have a feeling it might be my new local bar. and just putting a cocktail bar in alphabet city is a little rebellious. The neighborhood has been about small owners doing their own thing for years. How is this any different??

robert Ceraso said...

Just to be clear, I had nothing to do with that "Ceraso establishment" comment. I'd like to take this opportunity to distance myself from it as much as possible. Thanks.
I know it sucks Banjo's is leaving, but we're going to try our best not to be dicks.
Thanks for listening,
Rob Ceraso

Anonymous said...

I am concerned by the consideration that the east village is about small business owners doing what they do. In fact, what was available, typically, were the needed skills to maintain a community. A bar doesn't fit that definition.
We survived well enough without every store front plying trade to interlopers, and you know well that there are many in the e.vil who can't afford a 'cocktail' when a cobra will do and those who avoid a cocktail when a cobra will do.
Ceraso needs a reality check. Losing another venue for musicians is troublesome.
Banjo Jims was about the sound not the noise of a cash register.

Marty Wombacher said...

Rob Ceraso writes:
"I know it sucks Banjo's is leaving"

It doesn't have to leave, just leave it as it is. Every time I've been in there, there's been a decent crowd. I don't get why you want to change this place. Is it just to make more money? And this is just my opinion, but I HATE high end cocktail bars. And especially in the East Village. I just like to have a bottle of Budweiser and listen to the band. To quote Mike Nesmith.

Anonymous said...

I am sad for the loss of Banjo Jim's but it sounds like the new establishment has a lot of potential. I am curious and interested.

chris flash said...

Yet another cool unpretentious music venue lost on the LES, to be replaced by yet ANOTHER yuppie dive, as if Ceraso's dive will be different from any other dive!!

Avenue C has ALREADY been overrun by monied assholes, eurotrash and yuppie shits. Aside from the 1011 place up the Avenue, Banjo Jim was the ONLY refuge from this bullshit!!

She can move on if she pleases, but the owner could better have honored the memory of her dear departed Jim by putting the place in the hands of someone or a group of people dedicated to keeping Jim's just as it is....maybe it's not too late????

Anonymous said...

You bunch of moaners. You haven't even seen the place yet for Chrissakes. Moan if it dissapoints, not because it's changing. Give the guy a break. He obviously is interested in the neighborhood and what your saying. You're lucky it's not turning into an frickin Olive Garden.

glamma said...

ok rob, i do not hate you, i apologize for my earlier aggression. bad morning. in any case, this is EV GRIEVE, and we are your toughest crowd, hands down. if you read the rest of this blog, you, and all other ev business owners, will quickly deduce that this is not personal or even specific to your estabishment. we are bemoaning the rapid and grand-scale loss of everything that "east village" used to mean, and we VERY intensely critique that which replaces it. we are the last bastion, we love this neighborhood, and we are LARGELY in favor the commoner and all that is/was UNIQUE to NYC and especially to the east village.

Jeremy said...

EVERYTHING MUST STAY EXACTLY THE SAME!!!!!!!!!! FOREVER!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I really like this blog, but it's days like this that I can't stand some of the people that read it (I guess more to the point, comment on it). THINGS CHANGE, end of story. Luckily, it sounds like this change is coming about with our neighborhood at least partially in mind - something we can't say about many other neighborhood establishments. If everyone that reads this hates the East Village so much why do you still live here? Try, for once, to embrace positive change. Maybe, just maybe, you'll enjoy it.

OrchardMike said...

Give feedback about what you'd like to see instead of complaining about what you think he's going to do. I got to know Rob at a place where he used to work and he is a very decent and reasonable guy and he'd probably welcome the input.

Glamma: You don't hate Rob, he's actually a really nice guy.

Grade "A" Fancy said...

Are they building a loft level or something? Because Banjo Jim's is already the teeny-tiniest space to see a band.

Bucket Flusher said...

WOW this is ironic. I just lost the battle to open Piney Woods at 34 Ave A and now there's a potential frat bar opening on my block!..Not sure where to stand on this...

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I've had some nice times at Banjo Jim's. Terry Waldo's Tuesday shows, for example, are one of the finest things about living in the EV.

However, I've been worried about Banjo Jim's for a while. I can't see how it makes any money. In fact, I've always assumed that Jim's widow runs it at a loss as a (very fine) memorial.

The thing is that it's generated a lot of good will and fine publicity over the years and just tweaking the formula a bit--adding some fancy cocktails and a bit of food, yes, might be part of it--might make it break even or even make a few bucks. Cutting back just a bit on the music, focusing on some of the better regulars, charging a real cover on weekends, and rebranding a bit by either focusing on blue grass or making it clear that a range of music is involved might be enough to double the current business, maybe more.

Banjo Jim's is an under appreciated gem of the EV. I'm going to be very sad to see it become the same as a couple dozen other places, lose its audience and go kaput in a year. What they are doing--now--is a lot hotter than the plans for the new place. They stand a better chance of making it by refining the place than radically changing it.

Meli DiMarco said...

It sounds like this poor business owner, Rob Ceraso is really trying to respect the Iconic Banjo Jim's. He seems to understand what really made it the place that you all came to love and wants to preserve that. I'm sure in their way the new owners will make it their own, but preserve what made it so amazing in the first place. Give it a chance, have an open mind and for crap's sake stop being so damn snobby. Chalk it up to a poor word choice by using "artisanal" and go get drunk! Meli D

Anonymous said...

Avenue C's bars are terrible and not representative of the E.Village community in any way. They cater to the weekend frat crowd and/or Eurotrashy wannabes. The whole cocktail mixology thing has been done to death (but done well by a very few) but most of these kind of copycat places are schlocky, overpriced and dont get it. This spot will be on the market in 1 year if not sooner.

Anonymous said...

Who cares if things change? I do if they are changing for the worse, and losing one of the very few low-cost, low-pretense music venues downtown is a loss. The creativity and artistic flavor of the "old" EV was much about performance spaces that were low-key, and accessible to both performer and audience--like Banjo Jim's. Just one more nail in the coffin.

But we can resist these changes by calling the new owners on their bullshit marketing lingo, and fighting the transfer of the liquor license.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the NEW NEW MAR'S BAR can open here

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

Meli D, you should get some kind of blog award for posting the most unbelievably counter-productive comment ever.

Viva Esperanza said...

Seriously though will Andrew Coamey and the EVCC full time activists come out to oppose this or will they let it slide because it's not on ave A? Can anyone speak to this?

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one that wished this place was turning into a Subway? Or maybe a nail salon/dry cleaning combo? Just really stinks that I can't get a Big Mac on Ave C.

eurotrash said...

What a bunch of whining bitches! You LES wanna be hip losers suck. Stop crying and try using some soap. I wish you well Rob, prove these idiots wrong.

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

Hey eurotrash, Bob's busy trying to embody "the same bohemian sensibilities that used to exist everywhere downtown" and there you go blowing it with your gaudy fratboy patter. Bitch.

Crazy Eddie said...

Bob-Ok, Ok, we’ll take it back a little. I’ll check out the place BEFORE I call in the air strike:)

“I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream; that's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor... and surviving.”

Claribel said...

9C Bar was amazing (Roger, I miss you, you big lug!). I love Banjo Jim's, celebrated my wedding there, and Lisa struck me as a truly classy and kind individual. Any business in the EV that's still affordable has got to be tough to run; wish my pockets were deep enough to keep my favorites going for years and years. I'm very sad to hear of Banjo Jim's closing but do want to thank Lisa and the musicians who played there. The space has sentimental value to me too and I credit the people I met there for that.

And Marty, great Mike Nesmith quote!

Anonymous said...

Banjo Jim's is/was a wonderful place, a genuinely welcoming home to musicians, not to mention an oasis of decency in what's rapidly becoming 100% suburban yuppie hell. But the ventilation there is...um...let's say it's not the best. And the new owners are going to COOK there?!? Where are they going to fit the kitchen, in the basement with a dumbwaiter? Sounds like somebody's bitten off more than they can chew.

GiveMeVegetables said...

More than anything, we grieve not because we can't accept change, it's because now we won't be able to wander into this cozy corner spot to just hear some music, man. Why not serve those artisanal cocktails and hot plate appetizers AND keep the current Banjo Jim's music scene going? Two for the price of one, win-win, etc.

You're keeping the decor, right?

eric said...

im really sad to see BJs go, having played there, seen friends play there, & seen great known & unknown musicians play there. however to the extent that lisa is selling because of (lack of) profitability (she likes i eat, i assume), i have to take some of the responsibility for not going there and spending money as often as i could have. i hate seeing the neighborhood turn into what it is turning into, but the way to combat that is to Go To The Places You Dont Want To See Leave. spend money there. see live music there. show that theres a market for places that keep the EV spirit alive.

saxsaxsax said...

this is not a bad thread, as these things go... smart people here. having said that:

if you take a long view, nothing businesswise lasts forever, banjo's was great and in the present era unique, a bastion of a past that has been passed by pretty much. nyc is in some ways a victim of its success, all the money in the city now, and much is gained and much is lost. i've been a regular at banjo's as a musician for about three or four years, and eventually it came to feel like home base. i don't know where we will go now, it's a big loss, especially for the musicians who gather.

and now, a new bar comes in its place with a different orientation. yes it sounds more upscale, so the street affiliation will be gone. there may be some placating, but it won't happen, it will be a drag on the business. different demographic.

drink infusions made from scratch are a peaking trend, and it may be too late to jump that bandwagon. that audience will soon be seduced by a new pleasure idea. but creative cocktails are not a bad thing. in fact they can be delicious and a lot of fun. but it won't come cheap, so the old banjo jim people will be marginalized out.

but that's a battle that was fought and lost by around 1990 when tompkins park was renovated and christadora house was established. gentrification is powerful force, and ev was targeted by finance workers long ago. the idea of hanging out on avenue c at night without fearing for personal safety still amazes me.

oh and as i recall, before banjo's, wasn't that space once a similar-sounding hoity toity upscale cocktail bar, for about a year or two? avenue c is a harsh mistress. only esperanto and the sunburnt cow seem to have a way with it.

Banjo Lisa Zwier-Croce said...

Hi. Banjo Lisa here! It is sad for me to lose Banjo Jim's but I am so proud of all the amazing musicians that have passed through our humble place. Rob and Timothy are down to earth guys and care about the community. i wholeheartedly embrace them and encourage everyone to continue to support their place. Don't let the word "artisnal" scare you! What their saying is they don't want to serve you the same crap you can get in any bar! It's even possible that there may be a "Banjo Jim's night"(of music) occasionally! Anyone whose been in Banjo Jim's knows there's magic in those walls! With tears in my eyes I pass these guys the baton. Maybe I'll see you there!!!!!

Lisa said...

@Claribel: I miss 9C and Roger, too! (And Sunday School for Sinners, for sure!) Thanks, your comment made me smile. I moved to Philly in '05. I was happy that Banjo Jim's brought the bluegrass back after that weird beige-and-paper mache phase the bar went through. Good luck to the owner in her new venture.

Laz said...

So. The E. Village loses another music venue. Whatever. You who lament the invasion of Frat-boys and Yuppies are out of step with the fact that people want to live in town, and every last square foot is being bought, renovated, and re-sold. The renovation of the E. Village includes the removal of dirt, bums, street-crime, and drugs. Those of you who want that on your block are invited to move to White Plains Rd. in the Bronx. Insofar as the loud, obnoxious, and privileged (or otherwise entitled) crowds at these bars are concerned, be a real community person and make your case at the Community Board 3 meetings! There is power in numbers.
Peace,