On Thanksgiving Eve, the Boston music scene rejoiced: The Middle East in Cambridge was staying put. Its owners, Joseph and Nabil Sater, purchased the Central Square building they’ve called home since 1970, first as a family-run Lebanese restaurant and then for the past 27 years, a rock club and cultural haven for live music. The deal ended a year of speculation about the building’s future, as well as that of the rock clubs within it.
But the acquisition of the building located at 472 to 480 Massachusetts Ave. has also given the Saters control of another room: the adjoined T.T. The Bear’s Place at 10 Brookline St.
The purchase of the lot that houses the Middle East also includes the structure that houses T.T. The Bear’s. That means that after competing with each other in the Boston music scene for nearly three decades, T.T.’s will now be paying rent to the Saters.
Though some have described the relationship between the two clubs as not particularly pleasant, Middle East owner Nabil Sater says he expects little to change between the two venues despite the new imbalance in their long-established co-existence.
“My intention is to keep T.T.’s,” Nabil Sater told Vanyaland in an interview last week. “We love the way it is, and it’s going to get better. I don’t know how they feel, but we always work together.”
T.T.’s owner Bonney Bouley says she plans to meet with the Saters today (Monday), and wanted to sit down with the brothers before making any statements to the media.
Her Brookline Street rock club hosts about 250 live shows a year, as well as the weekly new wave party Heroes (up for Best Dance Night in the 2014 Boston Music Awards, with its resident DJ and founder, Chris Ewen, up for DJ Of The Year), the annual Rock And Roll Rumble (nine shows each April), and various other dance nights and events. [Disclosure: Vanyaland booked its V:Music party at T.T.’s just last month, and I’ve DJ’d in the room often, as recently as this past Friday for the Vary Lumar record release party.]
Sources also tell us that T.T.’s is currently operating without any sort of specific lease, so the Saters could raise the rent without warning or give the club — which celebrated 40 years of live music in 2013 — the unexpected boot.
Nabil Sater, however, stresses that that will not happen, and the two venues will work together. He cited examples of the two clubs helping each other when one needed assistance, like supplying extra wristbands or toiletries to one another, and expects that to continue.
“We’re neighbors,” Sater adds. “It’s a good competition, or whatever [you want to call it]. We’re not going to change anything.”
Coincidentally, the Middle East got its start in 1987 because of T.T. The Bear’s Place. As Brett Milano recounted a few years ago in the Boston Phoenix, the late Billy Ruane threw himself a 30th birthday party at T.T.’s that ended up booking too many bands. The spillover was taken in by the Middle East, then operating solely as a restaurant, and soon a rock club was born.
Adding to the intrigue of what might happen between the two venues is each room’s capacity numbers. In addition to nightclub and restaurant ZuZu, the Middle East features three performance stages: a 70-person “Corner” area for acoustic and comedy shows; its 194-person “Upstairs” rock club, long a destination for local bands; and the 575-capacity “Downstairs,” which books hip-hop shows and touring acts. T.T. The Bear’s Place has a capacity that rests pretty much between the Middle East’s two latter rooms, at around 330 people.
Last December, when the Middle East was holding community meetings exploring the construction of condos and office space atop its rock clubs and restaurant, the reported price tag for the building was $7 million. Nabil Sater did not disclose how much was paid for the Middle East’s building, but did admit it “was a stiff price that was not that easy” to meet, but he and his brother “figured it out.” When asked if condos would be revisited in the future Nabil says “we’re happy with how the building is right now.”