Years of History, Personality and Good Times
Luis Somoza 2002
To some it is an arcade. To others, it is a strip bar. Some think it is a biker bar. However, nestled tightly in between a laundromat and Godfrey Daniel's in the heart of Bethlehem's South Side, The Funhouse is none of those. For twenty years, the family operated bar has been a home to many a partier, musician and even back when it started, comedians.
The small, yet cozy bar is one of the Lehigh Valley's best places to see live music, due to it's intimate setting, and has been the birthplace of many of the area's most promising bands presently, named Poppycock Babble and Project 67. It was even the launching pad for LIVE, who started out playing at The Funhouse a little more than a decade ago.
With it's brightly colored sign above it's entrance, the bar is located at 5 East Fourth Street, celebrated it's twenty-year anniversary this weekend in a typical Funhouse fashion with two of it's oldest and most popular bands- The Creatures and Me and My Uncle Band.
However, the true magic of this little bar is best seen when you talk to its patrons, former and current employees, and musicians that play there, as they tell you the stories of past experiences, or speak fondly of the owners- Chris and Tina Kowalski.
Bill Melcher, bassist for Brother JT, and former bassist of the now-defunct Crack Babies, had that warm, comfortable smile you get when you talk about a place that makes you feel at home. Walt Diller, guitarist for Me and My Uncle was no exception- his eyes were alive with emotion in talking about the bar, and he said: " I like playing there because it is intimate. It has character and history.
In fact their band rarely ever plays outside of the Funhouse, and Mr. Melcher also agreed with his fellow musicians in adding: "The intimacy is what I like about it. There is no other place where you play and you are at the same level as the crowd. At times the place is so packed that people bump into you while you are playing and they are dancing right in front of you. At times, someone might even knock over a stand on accident, but it is in good fun".
My favorite memories of the Funhouse were the old Beach Parties that Chris and Tina (Kowalski) used to throw. Chris used to fill the bar up with sand, and palms, " he recollected. Both musicains also spoke fondly of the infamous Pig Roast, for which Me and My Uncle has often been the headline band. At times, though this might sound somewhat gruesome, the roasted pig's head would find its way to the Diller residence for the after-hours "night cap" and end up on a speaker in the living room.
However, the bar was not always a musical venue. In fact the bar started out originally as a comedy club, back in the early 80's and later on that decade turned into a musical Mecca of sorts. Chris Kowalski himself lead the way doing stand up several nights a week, and later when the bar became a haven for live music, his wife Tina became the one who booked and handled the bands,
To this, Mr. Diller and Mr. Melcher added: "She has always been fair, even on slow nights. She is a true professional in every way. Chris is no exception to the rule either." Doug Hawk, the lead vocalist for Rhino Campground firmly agreed and said that he, too, enjoys playing the Funhouse due to its intimate nature, and spoke very highly of the owners.
Similar to a bed of slate, which is layers and layers of history, the walls of the Funhouse are a testament to its twenty-year history, and those that have made the bar a special place. Pictures and flyers of bands and comedians that have left their mark at the bar line the walls and picture of its patrons and staff as well. Postcards from varying places around the world have made their way to the bar, a testament to its popularity, which is directly associated to Chris and Tina Kowalski.
In fact, somewhere in the bar is a picture of Chris Kowalski jumping a moped over Tonka trucks in the bar. Now mind you, that the bar is very narrow, and does not have a lot of room for braking... yet it seems as if Chris has made out better than most would imagine. In fact, the concert by Jay and the Techniques. He jumped twenty trucks.
Friday and Saturday night were two to remember, as Funhouse goers old and new, sprung out of the woodwork to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the little bar. People came in from as far as New York City to celebrate the event and it was marked with a barbecue on Saturday and a raffle of the original Funhouse tee shirts on both nights,
In any case, one anonymous patron put it best: "Since I have been coming to the Funhouse, I fell in love with the place. I have been to bars around the world, and this has to be one of the best I have ever been to. Chris and Tina have made this place special, and have made me feel at home when I come here. May it rock on for another 20 years. Happy Anniversary, Chris and Tina...and thank you for the memories"