UPDATE: Central Jersey nightclub impresario Art Stock dead at 74
By CHRIS JORDAN
The one-time king of New Jersey nightclubs has died.
Art Stock, whose New Jersey club empire spanned from Sayreville to Cape May in the 1970s, died Sunday, Jan. 25, at his home in Wall. He was 74.
Stock owned as many as 14 nightclubs, including the Playpen Lounge, and three others in Sayreville, during the decade.
“Amazing man,” said Tom Beninato, long-time owner of the former Club Bene in Sayreville. “He had his finger on the pulse of a generation. No other person did what he did. No one opened clubs in so many places and have not one of them be unsuccessful. He was able to satisfy a whole generation’s partying desires, and it was amazing.”
Stock’s clubs featured primarily cover bands and dancing.
“He had different genres at different locations,” Beninato said. “At the Sea Girt Inn, he had a crazy organ player and a drummer, just those two, and there were 3,000 people in the club and the floor was shaking. At the same time he had disco music at the Foxy Lady (now Deko Lounge in Sayreville) and the Colonial’s Garter (also in Sayreville) had cover bands.”
Other Stock clubs included the Royal Manor North in North Brunswick and the Royal Manor South in Wall. The Royal Manor North, on Route 1, featured a disco, a go-go, a deli, a mechanical bull and a rock‚’n'‚roll room, said veteran concert promoter Stan Levinstone, who worked with Stock at the former Birch Hill nightclub in Old Bridge.
“Art was brilliant,” Levinstone said. “He put his fingerprint on every single one.”
The first sign of trouble for Stock’s empire was the beating death of then 19-year-old Thomas Warncke at the Royal Manor South by two Royal Manor bouncers in 1978. The pair were sentenced to seven years in state prison for atrocious assault and battery.
At the time of the trial of his bouncers in 1979, Stock was charged with having a monopolistic hold on bars in New Jersey by the state Division of Alcohol Beverage Control and he subsequently had to relinquish most of his nightclubs.
However, Stock found his way into trouble in his next venture: horse racing. Stock, owner of Stockland Farms, was convicted by a state Superior Court jury in Mercer County for defrauding the New Jersey Thoroughbred Breeders Fund out of $68,000 — the amount of prize money his out-of-state horses won in 10 races for state-born horses between April 1986 and September 1987. Officials said Stock’s horses were born in Ocala, Fla.
Because of his conviction, Stock was disqualified from holding a liquor license in New Jersey.
His last Jersey club, Birch Hill, was operated in the name of family members. Birch Hill ran into trouble in 2000 after an accidental drowning, drug raids and a controversial sex show at the club. Birch Hill was sold in 2003 and is now a housing development.
Before Stock’s name became synonymous with nightlife, the entrepreneur was a teacher, including seven years at Woodbridge High School, and made several runs for public office. When Stock vied for Assembly-at-Large from Middlesex County in 1971, he ran on an anti-drug platform.
“Drugs are a frightening problem to every citizen of Middlesex County,” said Stock, formerly of Sayreville, to the then News Tribune. “Because the drug traffic is building to outrageous proportions and is victimizing 100 percent of our citizens, either directly or indirectly.”
But the Irvington-born Stock’s name in New Jersey always will be synonymous with nightlife. Those who know him said that he was an irascible character who would fire and re-hire employees on the same night.
“He was the Donald Trump of nightclubs,” Levinstone said.