Sunday, May 19, 2024

The “bands eat free” deal is advertised in the window of Clover HFI in Central Square. (Photo: Luis Cotto via Twitter)

The coming of spring and fading of Covid concerns – if not of Covid itself – has a very literal sign in the window of Clover HFI, the Central Square branch of the locally born no-meat fast-food eatery: an offer for bands to eat free when they perform in one of the nearby clubs.

The offer isn’t new, though.

Clover is directly across from the square’s famed four-stage Middle East nightclub complex and down the street from The Cantab Lounge and other performance spots. This location’s three-letter identifier is in honor of the former tenant, Hi-Fi Pizza, where bands and their fans once flocked for less-healthy foods before, during or after shows and into the early morning. Clover HFI opened in May 2015 proclaiming bands “eat free forever.”

“We wanted a neon sign in the window that says that bands eat free, and when we got one it was the wrong size. There’s been a whole bunch of problems with us getting that neon sign,” said Ayr Muir, the founder of Clover, in a Tuesday call. Even without the neon, “several bands a night, and certainly on the weekends, would be coming in.”

Clover is directly across from the Middle East nightclub complex and its four stages.

“Most musicians don’t make much money, if anything,” Muir said. “This [offer] is sort of symbolic and fun, but I think it’s really appreciated by some bands as taking a little dent out of the overall cost of getting together to perform.”

Music is one of the reasons Clover exists, and why it’s in Central Square: Muir said “a lot of the reason” he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1990s was love for the band Morphine, which was founded in Cambridge and a fixture at the Middle East and other local clubs. (The Middle East and Clover HFI are in Mark Sandman Square, named in November 2009 for the late lead singer of the band.) Muir had a show on the institute’s radio station, WMBR-FM, that allowed him to put his name down to attend shows free across Greater Boston. “I would go to three or four shows a week,” he said. “A lot of those were in Central Square.”

When his business grew big enough to open in Central, he made it “part of giving back to and encouraging what’s made it so vibrant there.”

The pandemic’s closing of nightclubs and bars meant a hiatus for the promotion and for Clover’s 24-hour operations. Now the promotion is back, and hours are creeping later as well. The site is open Wednesday through Saturday to 2 a.m. (and Sunday until 7 p.m.; Monday and Tuesday until 8 p.m.).

Luis Cotto, executive director of the Central Square Business Improvement District, said Clover was his spot “for rosemary fries at 1:30 in the morning, until the pandemic,” and he was excited to see the bands-eat-free sign in Clover’s window to accompany a return to “the evening vibe” between La Fabrica Central and The Mad Monkfish. “A lot of our businesses with outdoor dining are getting that in order. It’s plugging along,” Cotto said.

Clover sees Central and its stages churning back to life in the form of free-meal redemptions, and Muir thinks a return to 24-hour operation could be close. “We’re waiting to feel confident that there is enough business,” he said.

Essentially, he just wants Central Square back the way it was.

“I’ve had people talk to me for decades and try to get me to join efforts to, you know, revitalize Central Square,” Muir said. “‘Take the character out of Central Square’ is how I hear that. I love the layers of different things that are present here. I love Central Square.”

CloverHFI (496 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square)