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After 25 years, Newark Club calls it quits

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Newark Club long-time bartender Daryl White and General Manager Harry Prott.
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Newark's Broad Street reflected in the main dining room of the Newark Club.
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The view east from the Newark Club toward Manhattan.
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The view north from the Newark Club with NJPAC in the foreground.
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Rising high 22 floors above the city's downtown, the Newark Club is the ultimate room with a view. 

The club's Metropolitan Room, ringed by tall and wide windows, provides a panorama unique in the metropolitan area. To the left sits a slice of Newark's downtown centered around the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Dead center, the Meadowlands looms, a pocket of nature sewed into the surrounding megalopolis. To the far right, planes descend over New York Bay toward Newark Airport.

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But in the near right corner is the million-dollar view: an unobstructed vista of the Manhattan skyline.

Here's hoping people got a good look when they could. Because after this weekend, the show is shuttered. After 25 years, the Newark Club will close, with the room atop of One Newark Center used for weddings, proms, political fundraisers and business hobnobbing events to be converted into office space. 

The man most qualified to tell the Newark Club's story is Harry Prott, its general manager, who was there at its inception in 1992, part of another attempt to jump start the city's then hoped-for renaissance. 

"The old Essex Club at 744 Broad Street closed, which was the last of the private clubs in Newark at the time, and the owners here bought the client list," Prott said. "This spot became the place for all of the functions of local politicians, lawyers and judges."

Every governor from Tom Kean to Chris Christie has attended a function in the space.

"I did Congressman Don Payne Jr.'s wedding up here, I did Steve Adubato Jr.'s wedding up here. I had Mayor Sharpe James' birthday party, and I don't even want to tell you how many people we squeezed up here, we'll leave it at 600," he said. "We did Whitney Houston's repast up here. Who didn't we do? It's all about the view." 

One person who didn't make the scene still caused a scene out in front of the street entrance on Raymond Boulevard, diva-style.

"Mariah Carey pulled up in a Rolls-Royce, talking on her cell phone," Prott said. "She sat there for a half-hour. The Newark cops had to direct traffic around her. Then she decided to leave."

When the club first opened, members used to stay for long midday meals, a vestige of the days of three-martini lunches where movers and shakers would draw up business takeover plans and political campaign strategies on cocktail napkins. 

Now, times have changed. 

"The whole private club thing is a thing of the past," Prott said. "People do business entirely differently now. They do it all by email, not shaking hands and the deal is done. Younger people are all on their phone all of the time. It's not about relationships like it used to be." 

One final flicker of the old days took place earlier this month when a local Latina politician had her birthday party on a Thursday night, twirling around the dance floor in a brilliant vermilion dress as a salsa band kept the crowd moving.

Longtime bartender Daryl White served a steady stream of mai tais, vodka cranberrys and shots of Bacardi Limon while examining where the Newark Club fit in the city's mix. 

"This is the best job I ever had. Everyone you could imagine was in one place, and I was allowed to be there," White said as he put the finishing three-olive touch on a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. "This place is all about personality and hard work. That's what I learned here." 

As the pace of redevelopment accelerates in Newark, a lot of lessons are being learned, or reinforced. 

Office space square-foot prices in a booming downtown city can't be matched by a sentimentally venerated event space. In a world where cash rules everything around us, places like the Newark Club, a local point of pride on the same level as Branch Brook Park's spring cherry blossoms, can get crushed.

Some of the spirit of the Newark Club will shift to another downtown Newark fixture, the Robert Treat Hotel, where Artie Wassif, the Newark Club's veteran catering sales manager, will preside over the extensive renovations to the hotel's banquet and meeting facilities. 

As White served more spirits in the Newark Club's fading days in the heart of a changing city, his heart was bruised. But his spirit wasn't broken. 

"This place was Newark's best kept secret. And if too many people know about it, it doesn't stay special. The Newark Club will always be special. The moments we had here will only get better with time," White said. "This place taught me how to become a man. Everybody has to grow up, and growth takes pain. It's sink or swim out there. And I know how to swim real well now." 

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