Middle East owners hope shows will go on in T.T.’s space with new manager, no gap
As legendary Central Square nightclub T.T. the Bear’s Place enters its final month, its landlords – Joseph and Nabil Sater, of the equally legendary Middle East restaurant and nightclub complex – say they hope the space will carry on as a rock club without a gap in performances.
“That’s my intention … That’s my wish. Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” Joseph Sater said Wednesday, admitting that because of the need to go before the License Commission for the proper paperwork and permissions, there could yet be a gap in performances of a month or two.
The Saters aren’t yet booking bands for the space, and there’s no name yet to replace T.T.’s. when it closes July 25.
“We’ll take the place over and reopen it as a stage and find someone to buy it and leave it as a live music venue,” he said, reflecting comments made to the Cambridge Chronicle’s Amy Saltzman in May, “taking into consideration that we want the same kind of place there – [we want to] leave everything in place.”
Robin Lapidus, executive director of the Central Square Business Association, said she knew Sater and others were “working really hard to try to find something great to happen there.” While there was as yet no answers in early July, she saw a “really positive conversation among positive people to change to something equally positive for Central Square that will also become a cultural institution … I don’t think there’s any expectation from anyone that it won’t be a positive addition to Central Square.”
The club opened in 1973 and has been at 10 Brookline St. since 1984, hosting countless bands including Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, Jane’s Addiction, The Shins, The Pixies – who did a show there June 19 to say goodbye – and Scruffy the Cat, who have been announced by the Vanyaland music site as playing the club’s final night. There was a June 20 garage sale to clear out “40 plus years of stuff,” owner Bonney Bouley said on Facebook, and a Rockin’ Flea Market & Bloody Mary Bash was initially announced for July 12, but the event page has expired or been taken down.
Big mortgage, high rent
The Saters bought the property encompassing The Middle East, ZuZu and T.T.’s for $7.1 million in December and raised the rent at the 300-occupancy club significantly to help pay off the mortgage.
“No one is going to pay them what they want,” said T.T.’s manager Kevin Patey. He said in May that the Saters had been trying for six months to find a buyer for Bouley without success, noting they were offering “the kind of lease no one’s going to sign”: five years with a follow-up five-year option, but with a clause for only three months’ warning for demolition and an uncertain amount of time when the space would be closed for reconstruction.
“We had buyers ready to go that wouldn’t do it because of the lease,” Patey said. “I think [the Saters] wanted us to stay, but at a heavy price – one that we were not only unwilling to pay, but unable to. We could barely make ends meet as it is, and the rent went up three grand a month.” The hike was to $11,687 from $8,755 monthly.
The current economics of a small, independent live performance venue are tough, Patey said. “Live music is not really what’s hot … the sad thing is, it will become hot again, it always does, but when it does all the clubs will be gone,” he said.
Pocket license possibility
In the meantime, the Saters could face a problem with their plan to reopen the club without a gap – the same one the CloverHFI eatery faced when it replaced Hi-Fi Pizza across the street from The Middle East: The pizza joint had the right to sell the liquor license tied to its former address, and Clover couldn’t get its own until the “pocket license” for that address was cleared away. (Clover’s attempts to buy the Hi-Fi license were rebuffed as being too low.)
Now Bouley will have the pocket license for 10 Brookline St., although it could sell quickly or the Saters could buy it. Joseph Sater said simply, “We need to transfer the licenses.”
The club could also operate, even temporarily, without a liquor license, as the Out of the Blue Too Art Gallery & More does for most of its shows across the avenue in Central Square.
“I wish them the best of luck. I don’t not like the guys,” Patey said of the Saters. “I hope their master plan includes doing something with this room.”
“It would be a shame to just see it go dark,” he said.