ManRay in tentative agreement for new home in Central Square’s ex-Blockbuster

The former ManRay nightclub on Brookline Street became apartments; a new ManRay could go in about a tenth of a mile away on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. (Photo: Google Earth)

ManRay owner Don Holland never stopped trying to resurrect the famed Central Square nightclub. Under threat of losing his restaurant and alcohol license, he said Tuesday that he believed he’s succeeded.

The location: Central Square’s former Blockbuster video, a 5,000-square-foot space at 541 Massachusetts Ave. – less than a tenth of a mile from the old location at 21 Brookline St., and even closer to nightclubs The Middle East and T.T. the Bear’s Place.

Holland said he would bring “basically the same operation” to the site, creating anew the home for the goth, fetish, LGBT and BDSM scenes that were dispersed to nights at clubs such as T.T.’s since ManRay’s closing in July 2005, forced out by a landlord who wanted to replace the club with apartments. It would also bring another stage to Central Square, with a booking sensibility that once brought in Nirvana and Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy as performers.

“ManRay being in Central Square is what made it exciting, and it’s integral to its success,” said attorney James Rafferty to the Licensing Commission, referring to Holland’s efforts. “I know it’s been a while, but he’s been looking. He hasn’t wanted to leave Cambridge, and he hasn’t wanted to leave Central Square.”

Struggles to find a home

The three-member commission needed reassuring because of suspicions that the timing was too convenient: that Holland had managed to find a site where he could use his license just as the commission was moving to take it away. But Rafferty assured the members that not only had Holland been paying his license fees faithfully; he had been looking for a home for ManRay tirelessly.

Holland has explored options with nearly every landlord in Central Square, by Rafferty’s description, including hoping to reopen on the second and third floor of The Barron Building; the current site of the Harvest Coop; at what is now the Central Square Theater, where he was a finalist for the space; in 2009 at the Green Street Grille; and in 2010 on Green Street across from the former police station. (Some attempts brought premature celebration.) Even the Blockbuster site took months of negotiation, and landlord Morris Naggar of 3MJ Realty was “lukewarm” on bringing in a nightclub.

But councillor Ken Reeves did a bit of matchmaking with Naggar, and knowing Holland’s license was running out, “we prevailed upon him,” Rafferty said. “Our level of desperation might have been the thing” that convinced the property owner.

Changes on the way

There is no question ManRay will be a different creature: The Brookline Street spot was a pure nightclub, having opened in 1985 under different rules. Now food will be served as well as drinks, and Holland arrived at the License Commission hearing with a menu and floor plan showing a traditional concert hall setup with stage, dance floor and VIP area and, at the opposite side, a bar and restaurant seating. A model for the new ManRay could be Moksa, a small-plates restaurant that went in by the Central Square Theater with an attached nightclub called Naga, Rafferty said.

The Blockbuster space is also about a third of the original ManRay’s size and, being a one-story building, would be difficult to expand. ManRay’s license is for 635 standing people and an additional 115 seated, which the proposed site couldn’t hold.

The commission decided to hold the license for another three months in anticipation of Holland pinning down a deal with 3MJ Realty, when the members would “look very closely” at a renewal, chairman Michael Gardner said.

This story was updated Feb. 6, 2013, to make the spelling of ManRay’s name conform to popular use.


10 Responses to "ManRay in tentative agreement for new home in Central Square’s ex-Blockbuster"

  1. cellrazor   Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Good news but shoddy reporting.

    All you have to do is visit the ManRay website to realize it is spelled “ManRay” and not “Man Ray”. A small but important distinct.

    Secondly, it couldn’t POSSIBLY be closer to TT’s and Middle East unless the new location were literally on top of those two clubs.

    You had to walk down Brookline away from Mass ave, past the Middle East and TT the Bears to the intersection of Brookline and Green Street.

    The old Blockbuster is at the intersection of Norfolk and Mass Ave. I mean, did you even bother looking at Google maps before writing that?

    Well anyways, these rumors have been flying for years. I’ll believe it when I see it.

  2. admin   Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Um … sorry to offend you?

    The club has been variously referred to as Man Ray, ManRay and Manray, and I considered them all … then I looked at the sign itself, such as you’ll find in this photo from The Harvard Crimson: — and decided that there seemed to be a lot of space between the “Man” and “Ray.” I was also very conscious of this item from the Phoenix from when the club opened:,268017.

    And I was conscious that the club’s own website refers to it as “manray” a couple of times in addition to “ManRay.”

    The fact is, people have all sorts of typographical fun when naming things, from THEhotel to ARIA to a business I just came across called ath Power Consulting to those who insist Macy’s is spelled with an asterisk instead of an apostrophe … and these requests are frequently inconsistent.

    I’m agnostic. I’ll refer to it any way people want.

    Anyway, here’s the link to the Google Maps search I did (before writing) showing that for pedestrians, going from the old club at 21 Brookline St. to the proposed site at 541 Massachusetts Ave. (or back) is a two-minute walk of 0.1 miles:,+Cambridge,+MA&daddr=21+Brookline+St,+Cambridge,+MA&hl=en&sll=42.363955,-71.101785&sspn=0.001613,0.003479&geocode=FUtuhgIdNBHD-yktsc4JVHfjiTF26cFnkvr7UQ%3BFTpqhgIdIhLD-ykRrcUUVHfjiTHt44LBeUfUKw&oq=541&dirflg=w&mra=ls&t=m&z=19.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. HeatherHoffman   Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I think we have a failure to communicate on the question of what is closer to what. I believe the article is saying that the proposed new location is even closer to TT the Bear’s and the Middle East than it is to the old location, and, in any event, it is really close to the old location. Sometimes a reader needs to apply a little intelligence when trying to interpret a statement that could mean more than one thing instead of immediately assuming that the writer is too stupid or lazy to get the details right.

    Generations of creators of artificial languages have tried to come up with languages that communicate precisely and unambiguously, and no one has succeeded yet. Our brains nonetheless usually manage to figure out which of the various possible meanings a speaker or writer meant.

  4. cellrazor   Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

    YAY you fed the troll. :)

    All we want is to be acknowledged living under our bridge.

    You didn’t offend me. More so I wrote something deliberately piquant to provoke a reply.

    BUT to continue trolling, the statement that the new location is closer is still incorrect.

    What you should have done was compare from 541 Mass Ave to 480 Mass Ave. which is a distance of 302 feet. Where as the distance from 480 Mass Ave. to 21 Brookline street which is a distance of 279 feet.

    The numbers work out even better for me if you consider TT’s.

    Yes over all I like your site. I just couldn’t resist since a good flame since one of the main things that drew me back to Central Square many years ago was ManRay (spelled the way my old worn out T-shirt I bought there has it)

    If this place ever does really open, hopefully we will meet. I will be the troll in the corner wearing the gimp mask and @55less chaps getting beaten by Mistress Mimi.

    Here’s to hoping “Hell night” comes back with all its “benefits” }:>

  5. cellrazor   Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    There is nothing ambiguous about “less than a tenth of a mile from the old location at 21 Brookline St., and even closer to nightclubs The Middle East and T.T. the Bear’s Place.”

    It is simply incorrect. But again, it was meant simply to bait. Which clearly it was successful at since not only did it get a reaction from the author….but from you as well Heather….although again, an incorrect and long-winded one.

    But nice try. :)

    I wonder if THIS will make it through moderate……to be discussed soon in a blog near you..mwamahahahahaah!

  6. BosGuy   Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    I hope this is true. I met my partner on the dance floor at Campus on a Thursday night more years ago than I would like to admit.

    I’ll be posting this on my blog and referring people to this article. Keep us posted. I’d love to learn more about when it might open and if Thurs / Sat will be gay like the original location.


  7. HeatherHoffman   Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Sad to see your reading comprehension has not improved, cellrazor, even when someone is kind enough to spell it out for you in detail. In fact, the new location is closer to the Middle East and TT the Bear’s than it is to the old location, just as the article says. You are correct that the old location was closer to those other clubs than the new location is, but that’s not what the article says, no matter how hard you insist on misreading it.

  8. cellrazor   Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 9:49 am

    I still say the sentence is poorly written….like one of those exercises you’d get in the 5th grade.

    But thank you for buying lunch Heather. :)

  9. tom115   Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    You’re all a bunch of pedantic obsessive a-holes. Which is reminding me why I’m going to stay the heck away from this club if it reopens.

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