In a move that has left the Highland Park community saddened, The Italian Bistro and Lounge at 441 Raritan Avenue closed its doors at the beginning of July, because of a landlord dispute, according to a posting on its website.
While the restaurant will be missed for its Italian offerings, the Italian Bistro was also a renowned entertainment venue for jazz music. One of the individuals that helped cultivate that environment is John Bianculli, a jazz musician who performed at the Bistro every Friday night and who brought internationally known jazz artists to perform at the restaurant each week. The loss of the Italian Bistro means losing a consistent source of music for Highland Park that attracted jazz aficionados from throughout the tri-state area.
According to Mr. Bianculli, in a post on his Facebook page, “the saddest part for myself and many others, much more than the loss of another restaurant or a steady gig (which we musicians have experienced often) is the big loss for our community and beyond as a place to enjoy ourselves with family, friends, colleagues, good food and drink, a variety of good music, good conversation, laughter and getting to know each other better in a comfortable setting.”
The absence of the Bistro hits hard for Highland Park’s live music community, especially considering that the atmosphere had potential to blossom into even more. “It was becoming a real scene for many musicians to play and meet,” Mr. Bianculli wrote.
Rebecca Hersh, the executive director of Main Street Highland Park, spoke about the community’s overall loss. “Main Street Highland Park is always sorry to see any business leave town, especially one like the Italian Bistro, which offered delicious high-end Italian cuisine and was a great venue for live music in town,” she said. “We hope that a new place opens in that space soon, because any vacant space hurts the other businesses in town. In the meantime, we are working to help the local musicians find other great spaces downtown to perform, so people won’t have to miss any of the live performances!”
On his Facebook post, Mr. Bianculli also addressed the reasons behind the sudden loss of the Bistro. According to his post, the restaurant was forced to close because “the new landlord wanted to raise the rent 50 percent with hardly any notice at the end of the lease.”
When the Highland Park Planet called the Bistro about the reasons for closing, an individual asking for anonymity said that the new landlord had been “unreasonable” with requests, but there is a chance that the Bistro would reopen again in Highland Park. “The restaurant wants to stay in town and is looking at other locations.”
Mr. Bianculli confirmed that he had heard the same thing. “There had been a chance for the Italian Bistro to stay [at their current location], but it didn’t work out,” he wrote. “….(the restaurant) may reopen at another location locally over the next year.”
Nevertheless, the unfortunate occasion provides Mr. Bianculli and others to reflect on the importance of the Bistro and hope for more in the future.
“Thank you for all your presence and support!!” Mr. Bianculli wrote. “Looking forward to creating something again soon! We’ll make it happen! Stay tuned.”
(see companion profile on John Bianculli)