Word on the (Causeway) street today is that the Penalty Box, the North Station dive bar just across the street from the Garden, will either be torn down or completely renovated. Bruins fans attending training camp on Sunday noticed the bar was all boarded up, and last week Boston Restaurant Talk posted this notice: “According to an earlier Licensing Board PDF page on the City of Boston website, a spot that is tentatively called Causeway is planning to open at the former Penalty Box site on Causeway Street. There is currently very little information on the upcoming place, so keep checking back for updates.”
With it now all boarded up for the start of another Bruins season, changes are definitely coming, and while the joint was a haven for sports fans, it’s also bittersweet for the Boston music scene.
That tiny room upstairs from the Penalty Box will live forever: As the Upstairs Lounge, it was the first home of The Pill dance night, which started in fall 1997 (first name: Parliament) and ran weekly on Fridays until 2002 or so (my memory is hazy, as the drugs were abundant those days). But it was at The Pill — which we still do on Fridays at Great Scott in Allston — that I met or developed my inner circle of friends in this town, in particular DJ Ken and Carl Lavin of Great Scott and Bowery Boston.
The original “pill scene” was born out of that room, and I’d be nowhere in Boston today without it; hell, The Pill at the Upstairs Lounge was one of the main reasons I moved to Boston in September 2000. I’d probably have become an insufferable Los Angeles asshole, instead.
The second-floor club also took on many identities before the Upstairs Lounge, which ended abruptly because the private gay bar next door, 119 Merrimac, needed a permanent, seven-night-a-week home after their building was razed. It was a base for live rock shows as Chet’s Last Call and the Causeway, and bands like Bentmen, the Dogmatics, and the Flies made the place their bitch. I want to say I saw the Dresden Dolls there, but I’m not sure. However, I am sure I once read in the newspaper that a naked man was seen in the middle of the night dangling from the fire escape. It was that kinda place.
It’d be a full-circle of irony if a high-end restaurant called Causeway took over the spot. RIP, you dirty bitch.