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  • Writer's pictureJohn Haley

Let's go to Rahway, a Rising Star in the World of Arts and Entertainment

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

(Photo by Rhonda Haley)

“When people wake up on a beautiful Saturday morning and they say ‘Where do you want to go today, Asbury, Hoboken, Lambertville?’ I want Rahway to be in that conversation.’’

And if Nick Rosal, the man who said that, has his way, it could happen.

As a matter of fact, under his guidance and the hierarchy of the city’s Arts and Business Partnership, things are already in place and heading in that direction.

The locals certainly know about this hip little city and people in surrounding towns, including Summer Concert Freebies which calls Roselle its home base, but now it’s time to let the rest of the world know.

You have countless bars and restaurants all lined up and down the two main thoroughfares in town which run parallel to each other - Main Street and Irving Street. The different ethnicities and cuisines lends to a very diverse environment.

There are brand new apartment rentals all over the city, there is the gorgeous Watt Hotel standing tall as you enter the city, there are chic little shops, hip coffee shops, local beer breweries, cigar shops and art galleries, among other city features.

Heck, Cherry Street, located between Main and Irving, is a piece of Americana in itself, with features a little bit of everything just mentioned.

“I was sitting in one of the restaurants one day on Cherry Street and looked across the street to see a couple taking wedding photos,’’ said Rosal. “It made me realize just how far Cherry Street has come where people would want to take wedding pictures there.’’

There are plenty of cities and towns in the state which can boast of such attractions, so why would people want to go out of their way to visit Rahway?

Arts and entertainment.

Because of a concerted effort from the people who run the town, from City Hall to the Arts and Business Partnership, along with the relentless pursuit of excellence by Rosal and partner Joe Brown, there is always something going on in this city.

The Union County Performing Arts Center is the anchor of the arts district. Performances by big-name artists who make a stop at the theatre gives Rahway a big-time city feel.

In the summer, there is the Mayor’s Concert Series. With Irving St. closed off, thousands have come to see En Vogue and Terron Brooks take the stage this summer with the season finale taking place Thursday with the Pop 2000 Tour featuring Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray, in front of the arts center.

The outdoor shows are all free.

But aside from that, there is:

* A jazz series at the train station.

* A house music series at the train station.

* A Friday night series (Culture Crawl Summer Music Series) with bands at the Paseo on Main Street.

* A Saturday night series (Culture Crawl Summer Music Series) featuring more live bands of different genres on Irving Street, with the night capped off with a live jazz band in the lobby of the Watt Hotel.

* A jazz/poetry series which is part of The Downtown Bohemian Festival, a three day arts festival Rosal organizes in January at Hamilton Stage in Rahway.

* Jazz at the Coffee Box.

* Live original music at the Wet Ticket Brewery parking lot.

(Terron Brooks, Soul of Broadway)

These listings are just a fraction of things to do in Rahway. There are dance studios and a music school with recitals, art galleries with artist receptions and festival after festival _ all throughout the summer.

And everything mentioned, with the exception of indoor shows at Union County Performance Arts Center, are free.

If you visit, there is a listing of 16 things to do in Rahway this summer.

Anything to do with the arts and entertainment in Rahway starts at the top. So anything that is planned for the city ultimately has to be approved in the mayor's office.

It helps that Raymond Giacobbe, who became mayor in 2018, is on board

"I am proud of Rahway's emergence as a premier arts destination and of the many different forms of art and events that fill our streets and our calendars,'' said Giacobbe. "Not only do the arts make our city vibrant, they are also a key component of our local economy. When residents and visitors come downtown for events, they also frequent our restaurants and other businesses."

Arts and entertainment aren’t new to Rahway - the Rahway Arts District was actually formed in 2009 - but it has reached another level just in the past few years.

(Jivestock performing)

Enter Rosal, the owner of his own art gallery where he exhibits his paintings as well as curate themed shows featuring area artists, scores music for short film and plays, hosts open mic nights and writes the music for his funk band, The Rusty Monks and jazz band, The Housecatnick Project. Rusty Monks’ last two gigs were opening acts for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and En Vogue.

Four years ago, when the arts and entertainment movement began to emerge, Rosal moved Atelier Rosal’s art gallery and fine art services from the Flatiron District in NYC to Cherry Street.

With word getting out that Rosal was interested in promoting art - his and others in all forms - as well as promoting local businesses he connected with the right people. It was a match made in art heaven.

He was first approached by the Managing Directors of the Rahway Arts and Business Partnership Ann Marie Williams and Amy Garcia-Phillips and asked what he could do.

Rosal’s first endeavor was the Friday night series, “The Culture Crawl Summer Music Series”, at the Paseo where acoustic acts would perform. He augmented with a series with full bands. (sometimes - and amplified).

Once that caught on, he was approached for another series at the Rahway Arts District Park where full bands perform on Saturdays across the street from the Arts Center.

Soon, he was being approached by other people outside of the Arts and Business Partnership because everything he touched turned into a success.

It is to the point where Rosal now books bands at as many as six different venues in the city.

“I look at Rahway as my man cave,’’ laughed Rosal. “We have the visual arts, a short film series, rock, jazz, the spoken word, dance … I just a have a vision of having an impact on people in a positive way through art.’’

(Jeires Cook performing)

But Rosal is far from a one-man show.

Operating alone at first, the task of running all these venues became daunting. One of the first people he met was Joe Brown, who is the Advisor to the Mayor, Constituent Services or in other terms, his right-hand man.

“Joe became my liaison to the city,’’ said Rosal. “I was very insecure working with local government, but Joe was there for me and made it much easier to navigate. Joe and I developed a deep friendship through our similar and dissimilar tastes in music and art. He’s very much like a brother to me.’’

"After I met Nick our multi-faceted relationship began to grow,'' said Brown. "First and foremost, he is my best friend in town and someone I spend a lot of time with. Our wives tease us about missing each other if a couple of days go by without us seeing one another.

"Beyond that, we are collaborators. Whether it is navigating through the planning of City or UCPAC events, helping out the Rusty Monks as roadie, photographer, and occasional sound guy, or brainstorming with Nick on ways to continue to grow our arts scene through additional events and networking, I find that we work very well together and get things done.''

(Joe Brown, left, at Nick Rosal)

Brown added, "Nick is a creative genius and is passionate about his work as a musician, booking agent, and visual artist, and his energy is seemingly endless.''

Brown and Rosal are Rahway. They can be seen in town anywhere and everywhere, day or night. In fact, just this past Saturday, if you happened to be walking down Cherry Street, you could have witnessed a wedding -- Joe and Serena Ramos Brown, with Rosal serving as the best man.

"My wife loves downtown Rahway as much as I do, and we actually met by random chance on Irving Street during the 2016 Hot Rods and Harleys event. When it came time to plan our wedding, getting married publicly on Cherry Street just seemed logical to both of us and, with the support of so many friends and collaborators, that's what we were able to do Saturday. It was awesome to see our community come together to make it a beautiful event.''

So, the next time you wake up on a beautiful Saturday and you ask your partner 'Where do you want to go today?' Make it Rahway.

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