September 27, 2001  by Lea Kahn, Staff Writer


Landmark tavern to close
in 2 weeks
1999 Photo Exclusive to Virtual ALLWOOD DRIVE Website

The Merry-Go-Round will close Oct. 14.

The Merry-Go-Round Bar and Restaurant, a landmark watering hole in south Lawrence for 58 years, is closing its doors next month.

Owners Anthony and Joan Muscente have sold the liquor license and the property at 1861 Princeton Ave. The business will close Oct. 14.

"It's the end of an era," said customer Ted Liwacz, who stopped at the liquor store to buy beer Wednesday. "People come here at Thanksgiving and they see people they have not seen in years. I'll miss it. It will be sorely missed."

Mrs. Muscente agreed that closing the liquor store, bar and restaurant is the end of an era ---- but it is something that she has seen coming for several years. It is becoming increasingly difficult for mom-and-pop businesses to survive in an environment dominated by big businesses, she said.

The new owner of the liquor license plans to open a liquor store in the Mercer Mall on Route 1, according to Mrs. Muscente.

The Merry-Go-Round had its origins in a retail liquor store operated by Mrs. Muscente's parents, John and Olga Bodnar, from their home at 913 Pine St., Mrs. Muscente said.

The Bodnars had a walk-in refrigerator for beer in the garage behind their home, Mrs. Muscente said. Mr. Bodnar also operated the Capital City Beverage Co., which bottled soda from a plant in Stockton.

When the property on Princeton Avenue became available nearly 60 years ago, her parents purchased it and constructed the building, Mrs. Muscente said.

"When my father built this building, they asked me what we should call the business. I was 9 years old, and my favorite ride was the merry-go-round. So they called it the Merry-Go-Round," Mrs. Muscente recalled with a smile.

The original bar inside the building was round and had a canopy, just like the amusement ride, she said. The bar actually revolved, but the Bodnars dismantled it.

During World War II, the Merry-Go-Round was popular with GIs stationed at Fort Dix, Mrs. Muscente said. The soldiers came to dance and socialize. At that time, there was a liquor store and a game room where the dances were held, she said.

Over the years, the business evolved into a combination liquor store, restaurant and bar. For a time, the Muscente family operated an off-premises catering business. One of the four Muscente sons, Larry, was in charge of the catering business.

All of the Muscente sons worked in the business while they were growing up, Mrs. Muscente said. The oldest son, Martin Muscente, is the manager. He is assisted by his younger brother, John Muscente ---- better known as Johnny Red for his red hair. The youngest son, Anthony Muscente Jr., is an attorney.

"I am glad I will be able to relax," Mrs. Muscente said. "I am also going to miss the many friends we made over the years. We have had some loyal customers. They feel like my own family. I can remember many families. We catered their bridal showers and weddings, and then their child's christening and Holy First Communion."

That is the sad part, Mrs. Muscente said. The happy part is that she will be able to attend weddings on Saturday nights, she said. Running the Merry-Go-Round is a seven-day-a-week operation, she added. The business even stayed open during blizzards, so they could feed the men driving the snowplows, she said.