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.

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