Paul Mayer can still remember the moment Glenn Tilbrook left the stage to play “Tempted” on the top of Cafe Nine’s wooden bar. It was the early 2000s, and Tilbrook was the frontman of the English rock band Squeeze. Mayer was spellbound.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening in this tiny bar,” Mayer said. “They were a favorite band of mine for years. I have many good memories, there are too many to mention, really.”
Now, after two decades running the 250 State St. space, he’s ready for Cafe Nine patrons to keep making new memories—with different people running the show. After 20 years, Mayer sold Cafe Nine to brothers Patrick and Chris Meyer and Jesse Burke last month. In an interview last week, the three said they are looking toward the bar’s future and drawing from its past.
“He [Mayer] knew we were going to take the place over and maintain it as a local music venue and maybe change a few things to fill some small gaps,” Burke said.
While the programming will remain largely unchanged, the trio is interested in instituting later hours and adding bar food to its rotation of mixed drinks and beers on tap. This week marked the launch of “Workman’s Comp,” a new vinyl night on Monday evenings. Other longstanding events, like the New Haven Jazz Underground’s Tuesday Jazz Nights, Brendan Toller’s series Shake N’ Vibrate, and comedy Wednesdays from New Havener Dan Rice will continue.
So too will the events that Mayer put into place before his departure. This weekend, for instance, Friday night sounds include the neo-psychedelic group The Abyssmals and the New-Haven based group Zero Years and Vvbes, who will blend their styles as they play in the weekend. On Saturday, the venue welcomes Boston-born indie artist Will Dailey after a jazz jam session with Chervansky, Tappan & Ice.
The Abyssmals are from upstate New York and formed shortly after releasing their first demo in September 2016. The band consists of Jarpon Reyes and Bob Forgot on guitar and vocals, Boris Cahrenger on bass and vocals, Benjamin Wessels on drums and vocals alongside Muffy Reyes on organ, percussion and vocals. The group’s first album, Gospels, Hymns, and Other Trash! was released in 2019. Their song “Nobody Cool” appeared in Nancy Drew season one, episode seven.
Dailey, meanwhile, takes a do-it-yourself approach to his art. In 2018, his album Golden Walker was among the top-ranked albums in the Northeast; the Boston Herald called it “a new peak” and named it the album of the year. He took a dive into the podcast world in 2022 when he debuted his show “Sound of Our Town,” which is a travel podcast discussing the music in various towns.
“Sound of Our Town” wasn’t the only thing Dailey accomplished in 2022. He also released two singles, “Easy to be Around” and “Christmas Of Course.”
When asked about the timing—as the New Haven Independent first reported, Mayer was looking for a buyer for years—Mayer said he “felt it was the right time for [him] to step aside and let someone else take the business forward for the next generation of music lovers.”
Mayer said he plans on using the extra time to travel and visit friends from across the country and overseas. He added that he’s open to other opportunities that may present themselves along the way. Meanwhile, he still has a very soft spot for Cafe Nine, which he steered most recently through the Covid-19 pandemic.
That “tiny bar” atmosphere, where hi-top tables and leather bar stools glow beneath the stage’s purple light, makes Cafe Nine a special place, he said. He said it puts no barrier between the artist and the audience, providing for a more intimate experience.
“For a pretty reasonable price, folks can see some of their favorite acts and actually get to talk to them most nights,” Mayer said. “It also attracted a very diverse crowd because of our calendar. All genres of music were represented. Every night could be different.”
While the new owners plan on keeping everything relatively the same, they have some new elements in the works. Key among this is incorporating the kitchen to provide standard bar food, Burke and Meyer said. They say food items may include hotdogs, tacos, tater tots and vegan chili.
Cafe Nine is open late starting at 4 p.m. until last call Tuesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. to last call on Sunday. Burke and Meyer said the bar will remain open even if a show is not scheduled that even, which is among the changes they plan on making as owners.