Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Larry Ward, left, and Sean Hope are partners in new ventures coming to Harvard Square. (Photo: Julia Levine)

The sign still advertises John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House, but John Harvard’s hasn’t been at 33 Dunster St. in Harvard Square since the spring of 2019, and the crowds at the business had already dwindled after its 27 years.

In February, the site becomes something new – and ideally something new every day afterward, as two well-known names in Cambridge development and entertainment launch a rentable event space called Dx.

According to Sean Hope, who owns the venture with Larry Ward, the venue’s name stands for Destination x, with “x being a variable meaning ‘insert your own experience.’”

The flexibility to host nearly any event, Hope said, is what will define Dx. He envisions the venue hosting lectures, concerts, comedy shows, business conferences and graduation parties, among other things.

“We don’t have a space where private individuals, students or corporations could rent and have their own event,” he said. “We want to fill that void of curated experiences that used to be in Harvard Square, and we think we’re helping bring them back.”

A mockup of what the Dx event space on Dunster Street in Cambridge’s Harvard Square will look like when awnings are installed. (Photo: Dx)

Though Cambridge has hotels that can host big conferences, it lacks in venues that can host more modest events, especially since the pandemic killed off many of the city’s small businesses, Hope said.

Bookings already include a DJ, a Prince cover band and the Harvard Square Business Association, Ward said. He is exploring holding Sunday jazz brunches at Dx, while Hope’s private club night Diaspora, which has been using the space already, will rent like other clients.

Rates at Dx will depend on the season and needs of the client. Hope said the pricing will be accessible to many different groups.

Ward added that when he tried to reserve time at East Cambridge’s Multicultural Arts Center, he found it booked every Saturday for a year.

“There is a lack of spaces for events to take place, so we’re excited to be able to bring other options to people in and around Cambridge,” Ward said.

The space

The project is underway in Harvard Square’s venerable Garage mall, where owner Trinity Property Management said in 2021 that a changing retail environment was the spur needed to remake the space after some 40 years. That project, reimagined again in 2022 to include labs, isn’t expected anymore to be revealed this year – but that gives Hope and Ward the runway to open Dx and another basement entertainment concept: DxArcade, an adult gaming center that could open as soon as March with an entrance on John F. Kennedy Street next to a Tasty Burger.

To turn John Harvard’s sports-bar setup into an entertainment venue, the founders of Dx renovated the 8,000-square-foot space completely. They widened the stage, added an LED wall and installed a full sound system among a variety of other “elevated touches,” Hope said. The cost is “in the six figures, and we’re not done,” he said, describing the space on Thursday as about 85 percent ready to open.

“This really has been a full rebrand,” Hope said.

At the same time, Hope and Ward have preserved the character of the original building, mixing its brick and fieldstone walls with modern amenities. After tearing down some drywall, Hope said, they even found some stained glass windows.

“It really was a palette that we could work off and make our own,” Hope said.

Thanks to its mix of modern updates and classic charm, an atmosphere that Hope described as “Brooklyn chic,” Dx can host anything from a TED Talk to an EDM group. With its curtains and approach to seating, Hope said, Dx can expand to host hundreds of guests or shrink to create a more intimate setting – an approach also being used at The Comedy Studio that is expected to reopen nearby in Harvard Square this spring.

On the food front, Dx plans to work with smaller, Black-owned catering companies to provide eclectic spreads, Hope said. He and Ward plan to develop an in-house catering service for Dx and other Cambridge-area venues.

“We’ll be able to have interesting, elevated bites for the different types of events we have,” Hope said.

The founders of Dx said they want to provide a space for community gatherings that anchors Harvard Square, which has seen many vacancies and turnovers in the past few years.

“I love finding places that are underutilized and activating them for the community. That has really been a theme throughout,” Hope said. “We wanted to be on the forefront and maybe lead part of the renaissance of Harvard Square.”

The founders

Larry Ward, left, and Sean Hope in Harvard Square on Thursday. (Photo: Julia Levine)

The founders of Dx have lived in Cambridge for decades. Ward is a former city councillor and now serves as an election commissioner in the city. He co-founded the Cambridge Jazz Foundation and its annual festival, which has featured Grammy-winning artists. Through his role in the festival, Ward has helped raise and give away more than $15,000 in scholarships.

The Sunday jazz brunches Ward aims to bring to the venue were once a staple in Cambridge but have disappeared in recent years. He has been working with Ron Savage, who partners with Ward on the jazz festival and is vice president and executive director at the Berklee College of Music, to line up musicians.

Like Ward, Hope has a deep connection to the city – he’s a fifth-generation Cantabrigian. After earning his law degree and practicing for a few years, he delved into developing affordable housing and has since built 60 affordable units around Cambridge, with some of his biggest projects in Porter Square and The Port. Nowadays, Hope specializes in experiences and has founded businesses such as Yamba Market, a cannabis dispensary in Central Square.

Hope’s contributions to the city haven’t gone unnoticed. Denise Jillson, executive director at Harvard Square Business Association, said the following about Dx and Hope:

“It’s exciting to see that space be used for entertainment and bringing people into the square. Sean has been very successful at doing events that bring in a lot of people, and it’s great for everybody on the street.”

Readers can learn more about Dx at dxdunster.com.