Friday, April 19, 2024


Clover Food Lab posted this image of a mockup of the floor plan for its proposed 24-hour Central Square eatery.

Clover Food Lab posted this image of a mockup of the floor plan for its proposed Central Square eatery.

True to the word of its founder and chief executive, Ayr Muir, the Clover Food Lab healthy fast-food chain is asking permission from the city to stay open 24 hours in Central Square. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes to a 24-hour Clover – and hopefully to the all-day businesses that may follow.

When Hi-Fi Pizza was ousted by its landlord in March, the square lost not just a 45-year tradition but a cheap, late-night food option for music fans hungry after closing out shows at Central Square nightclubs such as The Middle East and T.T. the Bear’s Place. Hi-Fi was open until 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and until 2 a.m. most other nights.

Muir said in April that not only was he bidding for the 496 Massachusetts Ave. space, but ideally  to be open around the clock, which he called “a first for us, and I believe would be the only [around the clock eatery] in Cambridge. There have been 24-hour licenses in Cambridge in the past – I remember the Tasty in Harvard Square was a 24-hour joint, not the burger place that took that name, but the original Tasty that was a diner,” he said in a post on the small chain’s chatty blog.

He is correct: While there are eateries in Central and Harvard squares open until 4 a.m., the closing of the Gourmet Express in Porter Square in early April took away the city’s only legitimate 24-hour sit-down dining option.

The License Commission should give Clover permission Tuesday for all-day operations, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, it is right to replace Hi-Fi with a service that fills the same need, and terrific to have it be in the same, convenient location.

But it is also both odd and embarrassing for Cambridge to have no 24-hour eateries. The city is filled with students, entrepreneurs, late-night employees and energetic young people who have work to fuel, ideas to talk over, strength to replenish and stories to exchange at all hours of the day. A relatively sleepy city such as Middletown, Conn., keeps a 24-diner humming with only Wesleyan University nearby, while Cambridge has zero options in a city buzzing with students from Harvard, Lesley and Tufts universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, let alone the innovation industry workers of Kendall Square that the Kendall Square Association’s Tim Rowe was hoping to serve with a Venture Cafe as long ago as 2009.

Sure, late-night services can draw the occasional drunk and rowdy crowd, but Clover maintains a bright, healthful vibe throughout its five storefront locations – and the virtue of having a few pockets of activity from dark until dawn is that police know where to be to keep the peace.

Finally, the addition of late-night and all-night activities and opportunities throughout will boost ridership of the T, which is in a yearlong test of extended weekend operation and needs to be nudged toward longer, more flexible hours of use that will in turn help direct the region away from the use of individual cars that clog streets and pollute the environment.

There are certainly solidly residential (and nearly suburban-feeling) Cambridge neighborhoods that might not want to host all-night eateries, but at the very least the hearts of Central Square, Harvard, Kendall and Porter squares should be opened to all-night uses that will let the city’s nocturnal community emerge from hiding. A targeted move toward a 24-hour city might even be a goal worth examining in the upcoming master plan process.

Let it start with Clover in Central Square.

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