A&M Roadhouse serves up BBQ with side orders of rock n' roll
Tucked away on Lower Manhattan's narrow Murray Street is a dimly lit blues joint, a simple, wood-floored hangout where New Yorkers can listen to live performances of feet-tapping tunes while sampling platters of smoked chicken and grilled steak.
A&M Roadhouse, which opened in September 1999, offers a one-stop restaurant where customers can kick back with a cold beer and slab of tender, barbeque ribs and look on as local musicians take the stage, plug in their electric guitars, and perform blues and classic rock n' roll. The low-key bar has battled great adversity, closing at one point after the attacks on September 11, 2001, but it has stubbornly bounced back to continue serving its roadhouse fans.
Guests at A&M enter a 2,000-square-foot space, its walls lined with dartboards. Customers can have a seat at the long, fully-stocked bar where an undersized TV broadcasts ESPN. Basic, nuts-and-bolts rock n' roll hums from overhead speakers. The wall behind the bar is crowded with police badges from around the country, while a small, blue-and-white banner announces: "Seats Reserved for Yankee Fans Only."
Past the bar, the space opens up into a single, high-ceilinged room. Exposed brick walls are decorated with more small TVs, a red neon outline of a hog, and a full-sized Hammerhead shark, frozen in mid-swim. Fans circle gently over wood tables, where diners can sample tasty BBQ dishes as they listen to musicians perform on the elevated stage located near the back of the roadhouse.
"It's evolved differently than we first imagined," owner Arthur Gregory, 50, says of A&M. "When we started the business, it was really kind of a sports-themed restaurant. Now it's become a place where we have live music."
Gregory, a Jersey shore native, worked for about 18 years as a restaurant consultant here in New York City. After helping to open more than 25 New York eateries, he decided to start his own restaurant in 1999.
Downtown seemed like a good location for A&M, Gregory says. There were large numbers of people who worked in the area and also an increasing number of New Yorkers moving to Lower Manhattan.
|Customers pack into A&Ms tables for food and fun
"I knew that a lot of people were going to start living down here," says Gregory, dressed in a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. "There was a trend. For example, the building across the street used to be an IRS building. Now hundreds of people live in it."
Gregory himself moved downtown in November 2001, finding a new home on Fulton Street.
"It's nice down here," he says. "The daytime can be kind of hectic. But come 6 p.m., it's more quiet and quaint."
Five years ago when it opened, the roadhouse catered to an eclectic mix of downtown New Yorkers. Construction workers, traders, firemen, and bankers all came to grab a pint and a hot plate of ribs.
"When we first opened, we would have Port Authority officers, Cantor Fitzgerald bond traders, and postal workers," Gregory says. "And they would all be hanging out together. One guy would be making a million dollars a year; the other guy was making $12 an hour. In here, they were friends."
Located just three blocks north of the World Trade Center site, however, the small bar suffered greatly when terrorists attacked the city on September 11, 2001.
"We had to throw everything out," Gregory says. "The building was filled with dust. It took 15 people down here six days to clean the place."
Gregory lost close friends in the attacks, including three who had attended his wedding, six regular A&M customers, and, he says, "more than 100 people that I knew by their faces."
The roadhouse finally reopened after being shut down for more than three full months.
"I never thought of giving up, not once," Gregory says. "I got so involved down here with the community. We all sort of decided to stay, and keep working here, and that was it."
Along with other downtown business owners, Gregory participated in the formation of three new civic associations dedicated to the recovery and redevelopment of Lower Manhattan, including the TriBeCa Organization, Wall Street Rising, and From the Ground Up.
"One voice doesn't work," Gregory says. "We had to teach the government what we needed."
Today, customers are back at A&M, which opens at 11 a.m., Monday through Saturday and at 5 p.m. on Sunday. The bar's Lower Manhattan location continues to assure a diverse crowd.
|A&M's bar draws a diverse crowd
"We got construction workers coming in," Gregory says. "Then at one end of the bar we have the District Attorney's office and at the other end we'll see people from Legal Aid. But they all like each other."
Cuisine at the restaurant is, Gregory says, "American food specializing in barbeque." Popular dishes include Drunken Chicken, which is slow smoked with spices and a can of beer, and three different kinds of ribs: North Carolina tomato BBQ, South Carolina mustard, and Santa Fe dry rub chili. Also popular are the crab cakes, which Gregory has prepared and shipped to him from Maryland.
While munching on the smoked, finger-licking plates of pulled pork, catfish, and chicken fried steak, customers can also enjoy live performances by local rock n' rollers. On alternating Friday nights, Jimmy Vivino, whose day job includes working as Conan O'Brien's musical director, comes down to rock the roadhouse. Other Fridays, there is karaoke with a live band.
"We don't just use a machine so it's a lot more fun," Gregory says. "They can slow down for you, and if you don't know the words exactly, they can help you sing it."
On Saturday nights, young, local bands come down to entertain the crowd, and on Sunday evenings there is a free-for-all jam session. Customers are encouraged to put down their fork and knife and hop up on stage.
|Professional, amateur musicians take to the stage
"If you don't have a guitar," Gregory says, "we'll provide you with one."
A&M Roadhouse is located at 57 Murray Street
For more information, go please visit www.amroadhouse.com or call (212) 385-9005.