19 Broadway Remains Epicenter of Fairfax’s Music for 30 Years
by Elisa Forsgren
Except for six days when the club was closed following a devastating fire in early 2009, Fairfax’s largest venue, 19 Broadway, has been home to live music every night since it opened 30 years ago.
Now, the owners are planning a thirty-year anniversary celebration in conjunction with the year centenary of the bar’s new partnership and management team.
“It’s been a wonderful year,” says co-owner Garry Graham “We’ve had several national acts in our club that have brought the town of Fairfax not only great music and fun but it’s been great for other businesses as well.”
Case in point when reggae act, J Boog, rolled into town in July the band’s forty-foot bus with a fifteen-foot trailer garnered a lot of attention. As the lines built for the event, the surrounding restaurants and bars began to swell with concert hopefuls looking for a ticket to the sold-out show.
“I love this venue,” gushed Dani Whitaker-Moczkowski, a long-time Fairfax resident and patron of 19 Broadway. “Where else can you go where you can get this atmosphere, it’s like having a national act in your living room.”
And that’s just what new co-owner, Tony DeFrance wants to hear about his new investment. As a prominent heart surgeon with more than four hundred employees in the medical field, DeFrance is a really out of his element in club ownership.
However, he follows tradition since Graham was also a former maritime attorney when he first purchased the bar several years ago. “Fairfax was always the place to go when you wanted to have fun,” says Graham. Along with Graham’s wife, Amory, fun is what he has single-handedly provided for several decades.
Thirty-years of live music every night is no small feat. Even in these difficult times, said Graham, 19 Broadway continues to draw crowds of people nightly. “The magic of music is what people need.”
The building itself had been in Fairfax nearly a hundred years as a restaurant and bar. The Celoni family owned the business before Graham bought it along with his brothers — who were all musicians — in 1979 as Tucker’s Tavern. After a few years, he then bought the bar from his brothers to start live music in 1984.
Then, as now, there was a wealth of local musical talent. “You could not throw a rock without hitting a musician,” said Graham.
Hundreds of local musicians filled the club, until in 2001 it doubled in size and began to attract larger national and international bands. From reggae to rock to rap to jazz, the calendar is varied and full.
Though it’s hard for Graham to pick a best band, Sam Butera, the saxophone player famous for his Vegas days in the 1960s, stands out as a personal favorite.
Graham, a piano player in the 19 Broadway Good Time Band, has respect for the audience that comes to his club, but also for the musicians. The green room for waiting acts was once Graham’s part-time apartment upstairs. Currently with only one locked bedroom and an office, the rest of the apartment that includes two small living rooms, a kitchen, a deck, tiki bar and piano.
The apartments had to be rebuilt after the 2009 fire. The three-alarm fire, which started in the gas fireplace of the tiki lounge part of the club, demolished the upstairs apartments and the tiki lounge. The whole building was saved by the quick work of the Ross Valley firefighters and by the sprinkler system installed in the club.
“It’s a miracle we reopened in six days,” said Graham. “The show must go on.”
Without the support of the community, said Graham, it wouldn’t have been possible to open so quickly or last so long. “Fairfax is the perfect town that fits this venue.”
And Fairfax agrees.
“Dancing, live music and good times are part of the colorful history of Fairfax,” said council member, David Weinsoff in a proclamation presented to 19 Broadway at the Town Council meeting held the first Wednesday of each month at the Women’s Club.
“19 Broadway is a valuable asset to the town,” says Weinsoff. The club has been voted the Best Music Venue in Marin, the Best Place to Meet Singles and the Best Place to Dance by the Bohemian and Pacific Sun newspapers. Graham also calls the town “the entertainment capital of Marin.”
“We really kick ass,” says Graham.
When DeFrance joined as a partner last year, he also brought on his friend, Jonathan Korty, who was working at Sweetwater, a music venue located in Mill Valley owned by former Grateful Dead musician, Bob Weir.
“Bringing Jonathan into the club was the best thing that’s happened to 19 Broadway in years,” says Graham.
Korty, an award-winning musician, is certainly a product of his rich artistic environment. His film director father, John Korty, has won both an Oscar and Emmy. While his mother, Beulah Chang is a celebrated designer.
In 1995, Korty formed the nationally successful eight-piece groove-funk band, Vinyl, out of his Homestead garage. The band toured national and internationally, won countless awards and featured on Comedy Central’s, South Park in the “Die Hippie Die!” episode.
Now as general manager and co-owner of 19 Broadway, he continues to perform with Vinyl along with a myriad of other side projects and musicians such as Chrome Johnson, Danny Click and Honeydust.
Recently, Korty joined legendary Jamaican guitarist and inventor of ska music, Ernest Ranglin, on a national tour while still managing his beloved club. The tour ended with an exclusive Bay Area appearance in his club.
The club’s anniversary celebration will start on Friday, Oct. 17, and last through the weekend, with special guests performing. There will also be a free champagne toast and the owners will be on hand to greet people.
If you’re looking for a great intimate venue to call your home away from home where you can enjoy live music in Marin every night of the week, 19 Broadway has got your needs covered.