Local Rhythms – Hello Old Friend, Goodbye Compass

Claremont? Yes, Claremont. For a long time, the words were a wish, not a pronouncement.

But when Bistro Nouveau arrived in 2003, that boast took a tangible form.  It’s funny how something as simple as scampi, a good glass of wine and maple baked Alaska can change a town’s outlook

But believe me, it did.

A few years later, even though that restaurant had moved from its cramped quarters to Eastman, “Claremont fine dining” was no longer an oxymoron, and a new attitude permeated my little town.

With Sophie & Zeke’s in the newly renovated Brown Block and the Common Man the new jewel of a transformed Mill District, everything was moving in the right direction. Carmella’s took over the old Sophie’s location, and out of town visitors were suddenly reading our own hopeful words back to us:

Claremont? Yes, Claremont.

Live music emanated from multiple locations along Pleasant Street, and while it wasn’t a return to the heyday of 30 or so years ago, downtown was jumping

Then the economy turned.  Sophie & Zeke’s shut down, as did Carmella’s. The empty storefronts felt like a rebuke.

But only for a short time.

Last week, Bistro Nouveau owners Doug and Isabel Langevin opened New Socials in the old Sophie & Zeke’s Brown Block space.

Walking around the place, I was struck by how spacious it felt.  The solid trim atop the half wall dividing the bar and restaurant has been replaced by glass.  What once felt closed off is now unified.

There are other subtle but significant changes.  When live music returns tomorrow night, Jason Cann will perform a few feet away from the tavern door.  Previously, bands worked closer to the main entrance, and if you were on the wrong side of the wall, it was hard to see or hear anything.

Something else I’m excited about is a plan to present comedians and other non-music late night entertainment.  Over in Manchester, the comedy scene is booming, and I can’t wait for some of that talent to make its way here.

Beyond that, the food tastes just as good as it did on Washington Street – though I do wish baked Alaska would return to the menu

On another note, this is my last column for the Compass, as I scale back writing about nightlife to try and have an actual life.

Henceforth, my work will appear in the Manchester-based Hippo Press (the Compass’s parent publication) and online at http://www.localrhythms.com

To the readers who’ve supported me over the years, I offer my sincere gratitude.

I especially want to thank the musicians, venue owners and promoters of the area. Without them, there’s nothing to write about. They deserve your support.

My final picks will highlight a few of those people and places

As always – on to the rest of the week:

Thursday, May 13: Pete Merrigan, New American Grill (Rutland) – Pete’s a one-man booster society for the local music scene.  Heck, he’s been around for as long as there’s been a scene.  He’s also playing a luau show at the Newport Moose on Saturday – a bit closer to home.

Friday, May 14: Club Soda, Imperial Lounge – Cher Aubin hosts karaoke nights in Claremont and West Lebanon, and sings with her pop band Club Soda, which doesn’t do a lot of club shows, so this one’s worth catching.  Kudos to Steve Zhang at the Imperial for booking both original and cover bands.

Saturday, May 15: Talkin’ Smack, East Buffet – The more the merrier.  This downtown Claremont restaurant is the most recent entrant in the live music game, presenting bands like prog-rockers Spectris and this one, led by the tireless Rich Cortese, another veteran of the scene

Sunday, May 16: David Westphalen and elizabeth!, Canoe Club – There’s music in downtown Hanover 363 nights a year thanks to John Chapin, who doesn’t always crank it up, but routinely brings in wonderful original performers to do their thing – including this talented jazz singer who usually works the NYC club circuit.

Monday, May 17: George Nostrand, Killarney Pub – George Nostrand is a talented open mic host who is also an advocate for the mentally ill, something I know because Dave Clark at Yellow House Media brought it to my attention in an email the other day. I HAD to work a mention of Dave into my final column. He’s a prince.

Tuesday, May 18: Irish Sessions, Salt hill Lebanon – Inveterate music lover Josh Tuohy introduced me to a bunch of new bands over the years. One great Pub moment was when the Dublin City Ramblers joined a session at after their LOH show. Magic emanated from the circle of chairs at the center of the room that night.

Wednesday, May 19: World Music Percussion Ensemble, Hopkins Center  – If you want eclectic music, there’s one guaranteed place to find it. Not every show the Hop does is to my taste, but the nonprofit arts organization pushes the envelope like no other. This evening’s show features local talent playing world music.

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