The sign behind the bar reads: "Nick–A-Nee's: Best Jukebox, 2012." At the time it was an honor. Today it's a relic. The Phoenix dropped the "Best Jukebox" category this year. There just aren't many true jukeboxes left in the state. You can still find them if you look, but you have to look hard. Ubiquitous Internet jukeboxes are replacing bars' crafted ambiance with chaos: letting every idiot with half a load on play any song they've ever heard.
Nick–A-Nee's stands defiant in the face of this alleged progress. Owner Stephanie Finizia opened the joint in 1996. A photo behind the bar marks the occasion. Mayor Buddy Cianci has the "squirrel" on his dome; she's smiling in a sundress. Two CD jukeboxes sit along the back wall, next to the wood stove. A long bench offers comfort to patrons deciding which 10 tunes to play for their dollar.
"There will never be an Internet jukebox in Nick–A-Nee's," Finizia says.
She's an exception, but she's not alone.
"I can't stand the Internet jukeboxes," says Hank Whitin, another keeper of the jukebox flame at Pour Judgement in Newport. "Why would I give people that really should have no say on the ambiance complete control? I don't ever want to hear Pink in here."
He's a Generation X guy, loading his machine with many of his own CDs — the Replacements, the Clash, Wilco. Four plays for a dollar. He was inspired by the jukeboxes of his youth, hanging out at Ralph's Chadwick Square Diner in Worcester. He calls his bar "a shit show with great food, great beer, and great friends."
Nick–A-Nee's fits that bill, right down to the jukebox philosophy. Whitin is the self-proclaimed "monarch" at Pour Judgement. Finizia has no such title, but she knew a jukebox would define the bar. It was her bar after all. Why would you buy a bar to suffer through songs (or patrons) you can't stand?
When one jukebox wasn't enough so she got another. They are physically unremarkable save for their contents — the Meters, Tom Waits, Leadbelly. From Nirvana to Nashville, it's been 10 plays for a dollar since she opened. Her vendor is as stubborn about selling her on an Internet jukebox as she is about saying no.
On a recent Thursday night a thin woman with long brown hair leans on her pool cue while choosing songs, the soft glow of the jukebox bathing her face in light. She punches a few numbers and returns to her pool game with the bartender; his shift is almost over.
First up is Bob Dylan, followed by Otis Redding, some bluegrass. Frank Sinatra and Marvin Gaye.
Then a surprise: "Candy," a duet by Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson of the B-52s. Released in 1990 on Iggy's commercial stab, Brick by Brick, the song isn't likely to be found on the top ten list of any Stooges fan. At Nick–A-Nee's, where DPW workmen share stools with Davol Square suits fresh from the surrounding office buildings, it has a home.
"I had a dream that no one else could see/You gave me love for free," Pop and Pierson sing.
Jukebox dreamers like Finizia and Whitin don't give the love away for free, but a dollar is a small price to pay to ensure you'll never hear "The Thong Song" again.