Published DateLACONIA — As long-time residents of the region may recall, Weirs Beach was once a frequent stop for the biggest names in the music industry, most notably during the Big Band era. Jay Santagate, manager of the Tower Hill Tavern on Lakeside Ave., hopes that visitors and local residents will once again come to expect a variety of live entertainment on the Weirs boardwalk. Tower Hill is doing its part, anyway, having transformed from a venue featuring a single blues bar with a capacity of 140 to an entertainment complex that has added a jazz bar and a second-story rock club, with a total capacity of about 550 people.
This summer, once all three venues are active, there will be live music every day except Wednesdays.
On Fridays and Saturdays, music fans will have the opportunity to choose between a rock band upstairs, in the 330-capacity Tower Hill Club, or a blues act in the street-level Tavern.
Tucked off to the side of the Tavern is a cozy, 75-person capacity room Santagate is dedicating to jazz. "I just really felt that jazz is a great music to have as a couple's night out and in an intimate setting." To help bring jazz to the venue, he's hired the man who has recently made himself the face of jazz in the Lakes Region, Jonathan Lorentz, founder of the NH Jazz series that regularly brought top-shelf talent from the Boston and New York areas to Laconia, first to Pitman's Freight Room and later to Blackstones at The Margate. Lorentz, a saxophonist, will be joined by drummer Tim Gilmore and bassist Scott Kiefner to comprise the house band. Beginning on July 11, every Thursday evening this summer will feature the house band performing one set, followed by a second set with Lorentz and company backing up a guest artist. Mary Gatchell, a vocalist, will be the first featured performer.
Lorentz said, "Every single week, we're going to take care of business. There will be like four hours of music here." The jazz theme and weekly performer will extend from the stage to the kitchen. Every week, Santagate will invite a different guest chef to prepare special entrées and appetizers to accompany a regular menu of casual fare and an assortment of martinis named after jazz greats. There won't be a cover charge for those who attend the Jazz Bar.
For a rock club-type experience, Santagate is also developing the second floor of the building as the Tower Hill Club, a space that features a 26 foot bar and standing room only for patrons. Santagate envisions the club as a place where some people will pay close attention to the performers, while for others the music will provide a backdrop to other activities. "There are pool tables in here, it's a very social place," he said. For the first season, he plans to bring a lineup of tribute bands, funk, soul and rock. There will be a cover charge for the club for Friday and Saturday evening performances. During many days this summer, there will be table seating in the space and Lorentz or other soloists will perform, with open windows allowing the sound to spill on to Lakeside Avenue. Santagate expects to be able to welcome 330 people in the Tower Hill Club, which he is proud to say has level access for disabled music fans and boasts five toilets in the women's restroom.
Although Weirs Beach might not currently enjoy the musical magnetism it had when Duke Ellington and Count Basie brought their bands to town, Santagate felt there was no reason to doubt that the area could see its stock rise again. "History repeats itself — The Weirs has some great history here. This place is rich in history, people still talk about the heydey. I really want to see that for another generation." With the Tower Hill Tavern, Jazz Bar and Tower Hill Club, his optimism seems justified. "This is an entertainment complex, three stages, you're going to find something you like."
CAPTION for TOWER HILL TAVERN in AA:
Jay Santagate, at left, is excited to announce the addition of a jazz bar and a second-floor rock club to the Tower Hill Tavern at Weirs Beach. He's shown with Jonathan Lorentz, who will perform in the house jazz band and will manage the weekly guest artists. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)