It was just 8 minutes away from my parent’s safe, suburban house. City Gardens Punk Dance Club was a nasty, wretched, shithole perfectly located between New York and Philadelphia. So every amazing band in the late 80’s and early 90’s had to stop in for a show no matter how bad the place was.
Everyone told us the Trenton neighborhood was dangerous. There were projects across the street from the club and drug dealers owned the streets.
Everyone told us the club was dangerous. Skinheads, punks, drug addicts, the lost, the angry, and the unloved all frequented the club. Was it a club? Or was it an abandoned warehouse? Or was it hell? One thing for sure, it was a shithole!
It was also a punk rock mecca. Absolute heaven for people like me who liked punk and ska music. Green Day and Nirvana played City Gardens. Green Day was not yet famous, I was at a dance club in New Hope when they played. And Nirvana was a life goal for me, not a band I’d heard of so, I stayed home that night. I did see Adam Ant, The Special Beat, The Toasters, Social Distortion, The Bouncing Souls, Faith No More, Debbie Harry, Henry Rollins, Bad Brains, and of course local favorites Hyperactive play City Gardens.
I also did see Jon Stuart Leibowitz (Jon Stewart) hiding behind the bar in his black turtleneck. He wasn’t yet famous. Like the rest of us, he was unloved.
And every Thursday night was 90 cent dance night. DJ Randy Now played songs by the Ministry, New Order, and of course Nine Inch Nails. Everyone wore black and most people danced alone. Yes, people danced alone. It wasn’t just acceptable to dance alone, it was cool. I didn’t care about being cool, I was in love. I danced with my future wife.
More important than the amazing bands and dance nights, I managed to avoid the nightly violence and the fights. The art-punk band Gwar sprayed fake blood on the ceiling and I saw real blood on the bathroom floor from a few fights. There were fights on the dance floor, at the front door, and in the parking lot. Bouncers regularly had to escort fighting punks out of the building.
And I quietly held my future wife’s hand. We danced. We laughed. We drank 90 cent beers. We wore big, black Doc Martens. We raged against the machine. And we danced some more. We walked to our car at the end of the night with our heads darting quickly in every direction and our fists clenched. One of us skipped out on the 2nd beer earlier in the night, so we could drive home safely. We were careful, but never afraid, because it was our scene. It was our playground. It was our second home.
30 years ago I fell in love with a beautiful girl. Her laugh, her wit, and her dance moves kept me entertained. Yes, City Gardens is where we fell in love. We probably went there 100 times, every night ending in a hug or a kiss. I’m not ashamed of where we fell in love, I’m proud. Shitty Gardens, I mean City Gardens, was the perfect place to forget the world and find a friend for life. Yes, I fell in love with a girl while dancing in a shithole. I wouldn't change a thing.
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