When Bill Stevenson was a young college athlete at the University of Delaware, he decided to take a chance and buy out a building on Main Street in Newark. In 1972, he opened a bar and concert hall called the Stone Balloon, and according to Stevenson, it helped transform Main Street into the center of liveliness and food destinations it is known for today. Thus, the Stone Balloon rock-and-roll bar was born.
50 years later, the Stone Balloon remains one of the most popular spots on Main Street. According to Stevenson, it became a huge hit among young people. Soon after it first opened, the Stone Balloon hosted acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Metallica and the Allman Brothers. Stevenson explained how, in order to get these legendary acts to perform at a small rock and roll bar, he had to beg them.
After Springsteen performed at the Stone Balloon, Stevenson was able to book any act and grow the Stone Balloon’s name even more.
“Because any band that said they were too popular or too big, I said, ‘Bruce Springsteen played here!’” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said the sense of history and community that emanates around the Stone Balloon has stayed with it throughout its 50 years, despite changes to its structure. He even refers to it as his “own museum right here in Newark.” The rock-and-roll bar also helped to bring more people to Main Street, which Stevenson said was a “ghost town” before the Stone Balloon.
“When I opened up on Main Street, half of Main Street was vacant,” Stevenson said. “Nobody was here. We revived and saved Main Street.”
While the Stone Balloon started off as a popular concert hall with mainly drinks on the menu, times changed and so did the business. Eventually, concert halls and live music were no longer “in” anymore according to Stevenson, and the Stone Balloon closed for a period in 2005.
In 2014, current owner Bobby Pancake repurchased the space. Although he had never been to the concert hall itself, Pancake said he knew of the legend of the Stone Balloon and soon learned the power of its name. He decided it would need to be rebranded in order to be successful.
“We simply took that legend and that history and said, ‘We’re going to make this part of our brand,’” Pancake said. “‘We’re going to capture the name, we’re going to change the way the Balloon looks, we’re going to change the menu.’”
Pancake implemented the historical aspects of the original Stone Balloon concert hall into a rock-and-roll-themed restaurant, known for its food rather than its live music. It was important to Pancake and Stevenson that the history is preserved, so the decor and ambiance in the restaurant reflect its origins as a rock-and-roll joint.
“We’re really going to pay homage to and give credit to the reason why we have this name,” Pancake said.
While Main Street constantly transforms with the construction of new, multi-story buildings, an aspect of the town’s history lives on through the Stone Balloon 50 years later, through the atmosphere and community that surrounds it.