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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A mainstay of the Bleecker St. live music scene for more than half a century, the Back Fence will close at the end of this month.
Ernest Scinto, who has run the Back Fence with his brother Rocky since 1958, reported the news to The Villager on Tuesday.
They had till the end of the year on their expiring 12-year lease, but Scinto said they made a deal with the landlord to leave a bit earlier.
Scinto’s dad, Ernest J. Scinto, and uncle, Silvio, who previously had run the Pioneer Nut Club — which featured female impersonators — on the Lower East Side, opened the establishment, at the corner of Thompson St., in 1945. Back then, they called it the Back Fence Bar, but with the explosion of the Greenwich Village folk music scene, they dropped the “bar” from the name and changed their focus to live music. However, they always featured musicians who played covers, as opposed to original tunes.
Lately, Scinto said, “Business had slowed down a bit…and with the economy and everything. On weekends business has been good, but during weeknights, it’s been a struggle,” he said. Meanwhile, the landlord wanted a 75 percent rent increase.
“The rents all over Bleecker St. are going haywire,” he said.
The club’s M.O. was to feature a rotating cast of about 30 different musicians, who play one or two nights per month, again, mostly covers, and mostly acoustic.
The club has seen its share of excellent talent over the years, Scinto said, though no one ever struck it big.
“Bob Dylan lived down the street and used to come in and listen to the music,” he said. “Anytime anyone would recognize him, he would take off. No one became famous — but we had a lot of quality musicians. It’s a tough business: You not only have to be talented, you have to be lucky.”
Richie Havens and Tracy Chapman auditioned to play there, and Mary Travers played the club once, doing some covers and mixing in some original tunes before she went on to help form the legendary group Peter Paul and Mary.
The club’s fame is world renowned, and it draws tourists from around the globe.
His son, Ernest, Jr. has taken more of a role in running the club in recent years.
“I’m 83, time for me to retire,” Ernest, Sr. said.
There will be an all-night closing party on Sat., Sept. 28, starting at 8 p.m. and going until 4 a.m. Musicians who have played the club over the years will come back to perform for the final blowout.