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The Sting: Evenings at a New Britain Nightclub

(Part two of a four-part series)

Opening night was Nov. 9, 1990, where a story in the New Britain Herald characterized it as taking on the “appearance of a hotel ballroom on New Year’s Eve.”

But the lead in the Herald made it seem like this was just another business that would soon leave the troubled city.

“The Sting opened last night and although there were some glitches to work out, many of the patrons were just happy to have a new place to go.”

“I think this was the best thing to happen to New Britain in a long time,” a local resident was quoted saying that night. The first big national act was a Blue Travelers show that winter, 1991.

Those who went to shows recall clouds of cigarette smoke, beer carts rolling around through crowds, and all types of people coming to see a variety of music, from alt-rock, jazz, west coast funk, to hip hop, country, black metal, folk and blues.

“We had the nicest nightclub, without exaggeration,” co-owner Jimmy Newman said.

“It was cavernous,” said Katie Blint, a resident who was blown away by B.B. King when she saw him in 1995 for $24.

“I remember people saying they couldn’t believe a place like this was bringing in the talent to a city like New Britain,” she said.

“It was a converted bowling alley into a nightclub,” said former city firefighter and Mayor Timothy Stewart, who enjoyed seeing Tower of Power there, an old R&B Big Brass band.

“Tower of Power was one of the biggest shows,” he said.

The place was often packed, with occupancy topping out at around 1,200.

“They went over it a lot,” Stewart said of the crowds.

“The Sting was a destination place. People came from all over to see these bands,” resident Daniel Salerno said. “Everything was going on in those days.”

The act on opening night was John Cafferty’s Beaver Brown Band.

“I remember that show well because we were so excited about having some place with a live band and I just loved the song ‘Tender Years,’” said Bev Loreno, who attended. “It was very crowded and I don’t think there was a lot of seating as I remember standing by the stage. I chatted with a blonde woman who was in charge of booking the band and she was very excited about the turn out,” Loreno said.

“I hope they can keep it up,” Cheryl Blogoslawski was quoted saying opening night.

Though the Sting may have had the ambiance of a ballroom on New Year’s Eve opening night, it would soon descend into the type of depravity only a rock club in a city like New Britain knows.

The adjoined strip club Molly Malone’s, which was rumored to appall country singer Emmylou Harris when she came into town, made for two types of crowds: those who came to listen and those who came to party. And they would mix for strange results.

You could get into the strip club through a door inside the Sting, and over the catwalk upstairs there was a perch that saw over the stage at Molly Malone’s. Up there was also an office that few people were allowed into.

“You would look down and see all the animals at the strip bar,” one local said.

“It was always packed. I don’t remember it being not packed,” Salerno said of the Sting.

“Rap concerts at the Sting didn’t happen often; when they did, they were usually bad news,” said Michael Tierney, who tended bar at Molly Malone’s next door for a couple of years.

In 1996, rapper Keith Murray was involved in a fight at the nightclub and hit a teenage fan with a bar stool that left the kid with a 12-inch scar on his face. Murray was sentenced to three years in prison for that incident.

One local said they saw comedian George Carlin one night, who had just went through chemotherapy for cancer treatment and wouldn’t stop yelling at the crowd to stop smoking. Members of Green Day were ripping around in a Porsche after their show one night and were asking people to hop in for joyrides. Another kid said he missed the Cyprus Hill show because he arrived late, but somehow managed to smoke weed with the group after.

Former resident Erin Cowles said she and her friends got into a sold-out show only after the band Weezer, who then was just making a name for itself as an opening act, let them in to see the band they were opening for.

“My friends and I had no clue who the opener was (it was Weezer), but we were hanging out behind the Sting, chatting with the band and their families. We told Weezer how we really were there for the main act, and they put us on the guest list to walk right in,” Cowles said.

Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, who embarked on his first solo tour 20 years ago, was described in a Hartford Courant blurb on his show as being “overwhelmed” by the New Britain crowd. Phish also performed a show that is frequently shared amongst fans online. Additionally, Todd Rundgren released and album of live material that was recorded at the Sting.

But maybe the most infamous night was not about someone who played there, though it is one that has become legend across the city for some years now.

According to Grateful Dead lore, band leader Jerry Garcia was seen standing in the front of the stage one evening watching Arlo Guthrie perform after seeing an exhibit at the New Britain Museum of American Art. It was in 1992, three years before he died.

This is the following account, from a Dead fan posted online by the name of Ralph F. Davino. I’ve heard the same story repeated separately from a few people around the city.

“I was wearing a t-shirt with Jerry’s face as the whole front of the shirt. I was watching the show with my then-girlfriend, now wife Laree, and a friend when a girl I didn’t know approached me and said, ‘that guy on your shirt is right over there.’ I looked at where she was pointing and there was Jerry and two women about his age. At the coaxing of Laree, I approached him and gave a tug on my shirt and said, ‘is this you man?’ He rambled on to me in a southern drawl saying he was from out west and everyone confused him for Jerry. All the while the drawl was kind of falling off. He then shook my hand and the stump of his middle finger stuck into my palm. I gave him a half smile, gave my shirt another tug and said, ‘if this is you, thanks for everything.’”

The man found out the next day that Garcia had in fact visited the museum. The stub referred to was Jerry’s finger, which was partially amputated when he was younger.

Some years later, Scott Newman, who helped manage the club at one point, later opened the Sting’s doors to a free show at the end of the summer of 1995 that was an all-ages tribute to the Grateful Dead leader after he passed away.

(Watch for part 3 next week.)