Time Capsule: Cafe Metropolis: Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

  

This article is (Part 2) of a special documentary calledUnderground Party Culture.”

For Part 1 Click Here
For Part 3 Click Here (on the way)

The Cafe Metropolis was a music venue in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania that for more than 10 years presented an all age crowd with a wide range of music from local musicians and bands from more than 15 countries.

Their last address was 94 South Main Street but the actual entrance was around the back on Livingston Lane (I call it an alley), directly across from the Wilkes-Barre Movies 14. On the weekend the doors usually opened around 7 p.m. and the shows started around 8 p.m. with the place closing at midnight. On weekdays shows started at 7 p.m..

Typically, the price to get in was $7 with certain shows costing a little more but seldom more than $10.

Everybody has an opinion about the place. Some bad and some good. Some say that the place used to be cool but started discriminating against certain bands. Others say that they put on great live rock shows and it’s the place where people who like good rock and roll went to hear good rock and roll.

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This 2007 shot of a bands (from California) van is the only shot we ever got from (or should I say, outside of, the Cafe Metropolis. Our (then) offices were right across the street and to the left about 100 feet.

I’d like to offer another perspective…. By velvet rope standards the Metropolis was a dump like many small venues. It was poor but proud…. But it was also a local venue that catered to local clientele. More important, it was an indie venue for indie bands. For those who grew up attending and playing there they say that it had great owners, a great staff and great bands. The toilet flushed and the sink worked, etc…. It was a small venue that filled up without even selling out when bigger bands came through. The best part was that it looked full even when only a few people came out to a show. On a typical night there was enough space for people to sit, stand or dance without getting in each other’s way.

But despite my own musical taste and the consequences of urban renewal aside, I would give the Cafe Metropolis a decent rating for nostalgic reasons if nothing else. I never frequented the place even though they were right across the street from our old office. And whether good or bad I do know that in its last days it wasn’t the same as it was years prior. Maybe it was the move from the Sterling Hotel to Main Street. Maybe I’m too old to understand what type of place it was and what they did with it. Maybe I’m just losing touch with what kids today think is cool. Whatever the case….

You used to enter through the rear of the place on Livingston Lane (which I still say is an alley) but there was always plenty of parking in the beginning. You could usually drink or carry on or do whatever you wanted to do to intoxicate yourself in one of the parking lots without any hassles because back then there was nothing going on back there worth watching over.

But a few years ago the Movies 14 theater opened up right next to the place and before you knew it the once vacant parking lot was full with the SUVS of families who were out to enjoy a nice night of wholesome entertainment. With that came the fuzz to make sure everyone got along.

Gone went the days when you could slam down a few beers and catch a little buzz before the show without acting shady. There was even a nasty little dive bar  next door that used to have the random drunk who’d wander out of the bar and entertain the kids when that place was still open.

The last waltz for the Cafe Metropolis was on September 18, 2010. They gave their final farewell via their website…. “Big thanks to everyone for your support over the last 14 years. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Their website is still on line (albeit in disrepair) at CafeMetropolis.com and you can still check out their Facebook page

Here’s some highlights from a past show:

Artist: Big D and the Kids Table
Date: 2005-10-09
Venue: Cafe Metropolis, Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Tour:

Setlist:
1. Checklist
2. New Nail Bed
3. My Girlfriend’s on Drugs
4. Girls Against Drunk Bitches
5. Little Bitch
6. Great Song
7. What The Hell Are You Going to Do
8. Wailing Paddle
9. Bender
10. L.A.X.

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Photos courtesy of www.loom801.blogspot.com

 

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The following is an article about the Café Metropolis (and here’s the link to it) that was printed in the Citizen’s Voice newspaper.

As singer Bob Zanicky said, Teenage Girls has certainly had a journey, much of it shaped by Cafe Metropolis. Tucked along a narrow street in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Metropolis provided a social experiment, music lovers say, a place where youths could congregate, grow as people and enjoy music the correct way – without judgment and the commercialism so prevalent during an MTV-dominated era.

“I saw a place like the Metropolis as the last bastion of real artistic human interaction,” Zanicky said earlier this week as he drove from Philadelphia to Northeastern Pennsylvania. “It becomes kind of like a social petri dish, where kids have the opportunity to grow and find out what they’re going to become.

Saturday night, the experiment ended.

Part of a show billed as the Metropolis’ last hurrah, bands like Motionless In White, Machine Arms and, appropriately, Goodbye Soundscape and The Life to Come, planned to play the final show at the all-ages, alcohol-free venue.

Metropolis owner Kevin Dougherty will silence the music after Saturday’s show, a decision he reached when his landlord decided to renovate the building.

Through 14 years, the Metropolis hosted bands from all 50 states and 15 countries and survived a move from the historic Hotel Sterling to Livingston Lane. But after all that time, it couldn’t survive the bottom line. The shows drew crowds, but not profits.

“It’s not very lucrative,” Dougherty said. “It’s a lot of fun, though.”

With those words, Dougherty summed up why many felt such a connection to Metropolis. Making money was secondary. Giving a chance to someone such as 22-year-old guitarist Scott Durkin and his band, Fake Estate, mattered most.

While Fake Estate played mostly original music – a scarlet letter to many area bars, Durkin said – Dougherty and Metropolis welcomed the pop-punk outfit, giving it a stage to share its music.

“It’s going to be a really big blow to the music scene in general,” Durkin said last Sunday, lamenting Metropolis’ closure as his band waited to play the venue for the final time.

While bands and fans prepared last week to say farewell to the Metropolis, Dougherty cleaned up. He wondered if he could find a buyer for the hardwood bar in the lobby. It had come from the Hotel Sterling with Metropolis years before.

Other trinkets Dougherty collected through the years piled up around the bar, giving Metropolis the feel of a flea market with a weekend soundtrack.

Behind the bar, blowup Spider-Man dolls and posters adorned the walls. In front of the bar, Dougherty had somehow found room for a vintage mixer and an old vacuum cleaner.

“It’s the museum of crap,” Dougherty said. “It’s just you accumulate stuff.”

Like the hundreds of stickers paying homage to the bands who have played Metropolis. Or the scrawled names carved into the wall, a sign many people wanted to leave their mark on Metropolis.

Every show provided new memories, making it difficult for Dougherty to choose among his favorite stories. But he remembered one strange story that included a man stripping naked and greeting Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, as if that was as natural as his wardrobe that day.

At one time, that sort of tale fit in with the neighborhood.

Years ago, Livingston Lane offered a diverse selection of shops. Cafe Metropolis served the music lovers and a comic-book store catered to the ones with superhero aspirations. On the same block, a religious shop offered frankincense and myrrh for the pious patrons, while an X-rated club just down the street balanced the moral scales.

Metropolis outlasted them all, watching Wilkes-Barre’s downtown transform around it. Januzzi’s Pizza & Subs took root across the street, and R/C Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 provided a bright anchor for Northampton Street.

Now Metropolis’ exit will complete the Livingston Street exodus.

Zanicky, the 37-year-old Teenage Girls singer who now works as an attorney during the day, worries area youth will lose a place that encouraged a progressive view of the world.

Zanicky recalled the day he passed the bar exam. That night, he played the Metropolis and fans cheered him as “Esquire.” Afterward, they gathered at Denny’s for a late meal, and teens talked to him about law school and how they might someday go to college, too.

“The Metropolis was a major part of them finding out who they were,” Zanicky said. “It helped them find their voices as much as it helped artists find their voices.”

Not anymore, though.

Last Sunday’s show proved a slow night, another indicator of the difficulty of keeping the venue afloat. The opening band, Cut The Tension, arrived late. As Lighten Up took the stage in the opener’s absence, about a dozen people gathered in the darkened back room to listen.

Before the show, Lighten Up lead singer Perry Shall coerced the scattered crowd to move closer to the stage. The small contingent of fans complied, and shortly after, they nodded along to the band’s hard-rock style.

One of them, 29-year-old John Maneval from Mechanicsburg, marveled that Metropolis, all this time, focused on its original mission of putting music first. Cafe Metropolis did it right, he said, never deviating from its chosen path.

“It’s nothing fancy,” Maneval said. “It doesn’t need to be.”

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 Cafe Metropolis: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

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Author:The Man About Town

Aaron Cupil (a.k.a. The Man About Town) is an avid traveler and good time thrill seeker. A former trucker and the founder of Partyclique.com, his cross country hauls were the inspiration for this website. When he's not writing or running his company, you can find him circling the globe in search of new adventures to report on.

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