Bands, Beers and Bowling Fill the Barrow Mansion for Jersey City Food Co-Op Fundraiser

Photos: Jim Testa

Jingle bells might have been in short supply but around 200 merrymakers still decked the halls for a good cause on Saturday, as the Jersey City Food Co-Op held a fundraising event with bands, beer and bowling at the historic Barrow Mansion in Downtown Jersey City.

For a city that supposedly lacks a “real” music venue, there’s been an awful lot of rocking in Chilltown this year, much of it thanks to the efforts of (Dancing) Tony Susco, whose Rock-It Docket blog helped organize and sponsor Saturday’s event. Dubbing the night “Turnip the Volume,” Susco put together an eclectic bill of local bands that entertained a near-capacity crowd, who also enjoyed sliders and stew prepared by Jersey City chefs, locally brewed beers from the NJ Beer Company and a chance to win prizes at the Barrow Mansion’s antique basement bowling lanes, which date back to the early 1900s.

The event raised over $4,300 for the co-op, which hopes to open a location in Jersey City sometime this year; organizers also collected 75 pounds of canned goods for the food pantry at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, which sits next to the mansion.

“The evening’s success was entirely due to the hard work and support of our members, and the fantastic organization provided by our event co-promoter, Rock-It Docket,” the Jersey City Food Co-Op’s Gillian Allen says. “Donations are still flowing in from those who couldn’t attend the event but want to support the Jersey City Food Co-Op’s commitment to bringing high-quality local and natural foods at affordable prices to Jersey City.”

The music ranged from the catchy cornpone twang of Ace Case and his Crosstown Country Allstars to the psychedelic garage-pop of the Black Hollies to the bluesy crunch of WJ & The Sweet Sacrifice. The bands stuck to their usual sets, eschewing holiday songs and carols, but the decorations and a beautiful Christmas tree at the Barrow Mansion more than set a festive holiday mood for the evening.

When the Radio Exiles had to cancel at the last minute, Susco announced that a band called Dirt Surfer would fill in; that turned out to be the inventive post-punk combo Thomas Francis Takes His Chances, who add multiple vocalists, keyboards, a bullhorn and accordion to the traditional rock template of guitar/bass/drums.

The Barrow Mansion — with its classic architecture, large ballroom, basement kitchen, and abundant nooks and crannies — proved to be an inspired location for the evening, offering plenty of room for revelers to enjoy the live music, excellent food, and unique bowling lanes.

The building dates back to the early 1800s and was originally the home of Dr. William Barrow, a member of the influential Van Vorst family and one-time mayor of Jersey City. At one point the mansion was used as a YMCA and had its own gymnasium and pistol range. The range was later converted to a two-lane bowling alley, which remains in use with wooden bowling balls and hand-set pins. Today the building is used as a community center and is home to the Attic Ensemble, a resident theater company.

Given the ongoing struggles with Jersey City’s entertainment ordinance and the lack of “proper” live music venues, Susco has become adept at promoting live local music at unorthodox venues. On Halloween, he promoted a costume party and concert on the grounds of the Historic Harsimus and Jersey City Cemetery that raised over $4,000 to aid the cemetery’s trustees, and he helps organize the Groove on Grove live music events at the Grove Street PATH over the summer.

Jim Testa

is the editor of Jersey Beat, an online fanzine that has been covering the local music scene (first in print, now on the web) since 1982. He is also the host of Jersey Beat Podcast and writes regularly for the Jersey Journal,, Ghetto Blaster, and other publications.