Trigger, from rock to shots: Continental owner talks on closing, Joey

Trigger, outside his Continental cheap shots bar, above, and Joey Ramone became friends while at an Upstate ashram. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

BY GABE HERMAN | Another Downtown landmark is shuttering. This time it’s the Continental, a dive bar and former rock venue that’s been on Third Ave. near St. Mark’s Place since 1991.

The Continental’s closing was expected this summer, but got pushed back. The final night is set for Dec. 31.

Real Estate Equities Corporation bought the rights to the block’s corner properties for 99 years, paying more than $150 million, and reportedly plans to develop one big “boutique office building.”

The Continental’s owner and founder, who goes by Trigger Smith but usually just Trigger, admitted he’s been emotional about the closing.

“I live on Avenue A. It’s going to be hard to walk by that corner and not be crushed inside,” he said, “because the place has meant so much to me. It becomes your life.”

He added that while the past 12 years of the Continental as a bar were great — “I call it a ‘classy dive bar,’ some people might disagree,” he said — it was the first 15 years of music that meant the most to him. Trigger said this was partly because he loves playing music, including guitar and jazz sax, which he hopes to take up again with more free time.

The relationships also made the music special.

“The musicians, you know — creative, artistic, crazy, dysfunctional people in a local rock scene,” Trigger said. “You just get so close. You have a lot in common. Most of the bands aren’t gonna blow up and become rich rock stars. A few of them have… . But you’re in it together, blood sweat and tears, and you’re in it for the love of music.”

Big names that played there included Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Guns N’ Roses and The Wallflowers. Trigger wanted two local bands mentioned, Sea Monster and The Waldos, who were good friends and whose music he loved.

During the place’s live-music years, Trigger developed a friendship with Joey Ramone, who lived a block away, at Ninth St. and Third Ave. — “in the big white building” — and often walked by. Initially they just nodded.

“I didn’t know him,” he said. “Of course, I’m a huge Ramones fan.”

Joey came to see live music, but the ice wasn’t broken until they were at the same Catskills ashram, and talked about how they would see each other outside the club. Trigger meditates daily.

“We hit it off, we became buddies,” he said. “We started having ‘unsigned band nights,’ bands that he was behind.”

A Christmas show with Joey followed, then a birthday show, and he ended up performing there many times, including his final show, in 2000.

In the early 2010s when it was a bar, the Continental was accused by some of having a racist door policy. There were protests by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, and complaints filed with the city’s Commission on Human Rights. But the commission cleared the bar of any wrongdoing or discrimination, as The Villager reported in 2013.

In Trigger’s goodbye on the site, he wrote, “Our door policy was strictly about dress code and vibe code. And I’m absolutely certain we denied entry to more intoxicated, caucasian, bro types than any other group or race. A busy, centrally located, bar without a Door Policy will soon devolve into chaos, violence and things disappearing.”

He doesn’t plan to duplicate the Continental.

“It means a lot that we have our place in New York City rock lore,” he said. “But it’s real stressful and it takes a lot out of you.”

Despite the changes to the East Village that have now also affected his business, Trigger remains fond of his home of three decades. He compared it to Burning Man, which he has attended for 17 years, which now draws Silicon Valley types to the annual desert fest.

“You can’t avoid the gentrification to a certain degree, but there’s still a great vibe in the East Village,” he said. “Is it what it was 20 years ago? No, but what is?”

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