Cambridge Day reports the owner of the Middle East complex in Central Square has put the complex up for sale - but that he hopes whoever buys it will keep the nightclub open.
Well, businesses come and go. Sad to see a place I have so many memories about potentially going down the drain.
about not loudly mourning every famed local place that closes. But this one stings. I’m ancient by the standards of the crowds these days — at least I can usually count on fellow grizzled crazy old uncle Brett Milano to be there, too — but I’ve never stopped going. Fuck.
The Saters have been running that business for over 40 years. Do the math. They're not spring chickens any more. It's a business that requires a lot of heavy work and personal involvement if you're going to do it right. And yes, they've done it right.
Although the Cambridge Day article says the restaurant opened in 1969, the Saters didn't acquire it until a few years later. It was originally just one storefront on Brookline Street, with a dining room not much bigger than my living room, and the kitchen in the back. I think the Old Mole newspaper had its office a couple of doors away, in the same building; there was a defunct bowling alley in the basement. And a shoe factory in the next block.
Plus the Saters are getting hammered by the real estate inflation in their area. Look across the street, a high rise going up. For years the Saters just rented, occupying a larger and larger piece of their landlord's building. When their landlord put the building up for sale, the Saters bought it, hoping they could add something on top to subsidize their mortgage costs, and figuring that a new landlord would jack up their rents anyway. For whatever reason, their building expansion plans never worked out. So now they have to cover the entire mortgage out of the nightclub profits. It's just not workable.
According to the Cambridge Assessor's website, they paid $7.1 million for the property in December 2014, five years ago. And as of January 2019 (a year ago) it was assessed at $4,949,300. Based on that, I'd have to wonder if they overpaid back in 2014. But not far away in the future, it will be worth that and more. We'll see a high rise on the site.
Think back to 1969, when the original owners of the restaurant started it. That block was right in the route of the proposed Inner Belt highway. It was going to be bulldozed in a few years, and no one had invested in the area for a couple of decades. It was a BIG THING when McDonald's tore down a 3- or 4-story building across the street in 1975, to put in a 1-story fast food shack. That was investment in a neighborhood that hadn't seen anything in a long time.
And now it's right in the expansion zone for Kendall Square -- which, as I recall, has the highest per-square-foot office rents in the U.S., outside of Lower Manhattan.
(Full disclosure: My musical tastes run in another direction, so I've never patronized the nightclub, but I greatly admire the Saters for what they've done. In the mid 1970s I lived in the next block of Brookline Street and enjoyed their wonderful Middle Eastern food on numerous occasions, both before and after the Saters took over. And one of my friends at the time did their bookkeeping for them. And, oh yes, I've lost track of how many arson fires I witnessed in the Central Square neighborhood in those years.)
professional expertise and obvious feeling for the neighborhood. That place means a lot to me, yet I knew so little of its history, its place in Central Square. (I hope it all turns out well for the Saters, at least. Gentrification is cruel.)
"And, oh yes, I've lost track of how many arson fires I witnessed in the Central Square neighborhood in those years."
One of them being Jack's, another great music club on Mass Ave with a long history. A haven for local bands, luminaries like Bonnie Raitt got their start there. It mysteriously and suddenly when up in flames one night in 1987 (if I recall, local band Treat Her Right's equipment was lost in the blaze) and it seems like only days later luxury housing was rising like a phoenix from the ashes. Also lost in that blaze was the next door restaurant Uncle Bunnie's. Best cheescake brownies I ever had were in that place.
The condo project next door to Jack's (and Uncle Bunny's ice cream) was already approved and almost ready to build when Jack's burned down. The condo project, called Bay Square, was planned as an L-shaped development to fit the lot, with frontage on Bay St. and Mass. Ave., but missing the corner lot where Jack's stood. So, yes, the Bay Square building went up very soon after the fire. The developers of the condo project bought the now-vacant corner lot where Jack's had been and just landscaped it, using it as a front yard for the condos.
The Bay Square project went up on land that had been vacant for years, once used as a parking lot and dispatch facility for Yellow Cab. The frontage on Mass. Ave. had been occupied by some brick row houses -- which had stores in the lower floors -- that burned around 1971 or '72. That was the first big fire that I witnessed personally, but I have no idea whether it was arson. After that fire, Yellow Cab -- which had been on Bay St. already -- just acquired the adjacent, now-vacant land on Mass. Ave.
I love Boston/Cambridge and am have real mixed feelings about this.
Lets set aside gentrification, rent / property aside, if you've been running a place like this for that long, eventually you may want to retire. If you think of all the complications and headaches in food and entertainment, it is a labor of love for a place like this, and really, the only way you would get super wealthy in this sort of venture is 1) Cheat on your taxes by under reporting income 2) Jack up prices on all drinks and shows and 3) Make it expensive and high end to attract only tourist money or expense accounts (like a good chunk of the Seaport) so sustain.
Frankly, having been to many shows there since I was a kid in the 80s, I do as an adult see that it has been around a long time and if the kids of the owner (if there are) are just done, and no one wants to take up the mantle and keep it going, this could happen even if prices weren't crazy high. Yes I could see that space being torn down and like six stories of loft style condos being added with 'a first floor common music space for the community to pay homage to the middle east legacy' and yeah as much as I love central, who is going to spend 2 Million for a place near a bus stop full of folks that reek of pot and urine and spend their days yelling. Central has been 'up and coming' since 96, and though I always have liked how it dances on the posh and gritty line, as of late it seems the denizens are much more loud and angry.
Now, that isn't to say I wouldn't be happy to be a part of a 'save the middle east' like having a campaign to declare it historic or push for some weather Cambridge folks to buy it but then you'd need to hire people to run it and it would end up like Tavern in the Square as a sort of blasé location. I'm not going to take the 'boo hoo gentrify OMG Liz Warren is a millionaire she should buy it to show she isn't a corporate shill" but honestly, it is a labor of love. I mean I would have bought Algiers in Harvard Square if I could have even though I know nothing about the restaurant business - but again someone needs to run it and keep it going for years to come and that isn't a life for everyone.
The way that the Harvard Book Store changed hands comes to mind.
The longtime owner had inheritted it from his father and when he was ready to retire in 2008 he made a very concentrated search looking for the "right" owner and offered to stay around after as a consultant to keep things going. Granted he did not own the building he was in but he could have easily just tossed it up for sale and not really thought about it. Instead he took a stake in the longevity of the store knowing how significant it was to so many. I see it is a good template for culturally significant businesses in the area.
I can't imagine what venu in Boston is going to replace them for the specific size acts they bring in.
Why keep it open when that valuable space could be used for a CVS or Verizon store?
Or a bank!
Or condos! Possibly stick-built five-over-two podium buildings, for a change.
My issue is so many of these closures are self inflicted. Where the owner of the business being removed is the same or very well connected with the landlord. They bought the land for X , are selling it for Y and are expecting the new owner to make up the difference and operate a business that can not possibly generate the needed cash flow to keep the old business a float.
I am not suggesting older business owners who can control their own fates not "cash out" but I warn against putting the blame on the new developer when it is the seller who is making the money up front. If you have some sort of control over the building and the business there are ways and methods you can protect the business. Selling it to a third party and attaching a long term lease to it which would reduce the asking price of the building. Building it into an agreement. Getting the city to put zoning restrictions on the space etc. All would reduce the cost of the sale though.
When I was in high school in the late 90s I made a fake ID that said I was 18 just so I could go see the shows there. Boston's thriving underground hip hop acts regularly performed there. I would go to see Mr. Lif and DJ Fakts One, Akrobatik, Virtuoso, Seven L and Esoteric, and many others. Also a lot of underground hip hop from the East Coast like Black Star, Company Flo, Army of the Pharaohs, Lord Seer, The Lyricist Lounge Tour and even super stars like Rakim. They still have some good hip hop shows today too. What a great place.
Without the Middle East, Central is pretty much just a bus shelter. If any of the well-endowed Boston arts organizations had any real interest in the arts community, they'd figure out how to buy the building and keep it operating. Unfortunately, because the arts practiced at the Middle East don't involve fancy suits and chardonnay (other than at ZuZu), our esteemed institutions are probably not interested.
there is still Hardcore Stadium in Central, aka the Elks Lodge. It has shows most weekends.
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