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The rumor of the imminent demise of the Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub, circulated yesterday via social media, has been greatly exaggerated. Or, at least, somewhat.
“The Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub will remain up and running as usual,” said co-owner Nabil Sater, reached by phone yesterday evening.
But that’s not to say change is not in the wind for one of the Boston area’s longstanding rock and hip-hop mainstays. The multi-club complex in Cambridge‘s Central Square includes the Middle East Upstairs, Downstairs, Corner and the adjacent Sonia. (Sonia took over the space formerly occupied by the storied T.T. the Bear’s club, which was shuttered in the summer of 2015.)
As reported yesterday on the Cambridgeday website, the owners, brothers Joseph and Nabil Sater, listed the property with the Boston broker Hunneman last week, with an asking price of a reported $40 million.
“You can call it a sale,” Nabil Sater said, of the current situation, “but that is not the way I would like to word it. We’re looking to develop the property. The Middle East business is here to stay and will be part of any development. I don’t know how it’s going to go because nothing has happened yet.”
It’s not the first time the Saters have flirted with selling. “I think we were planning to do that five years ago when we first bought the building,” Sater said. At the time, they were hoping an eight-story building with condominium units could be built above the remodeled clubs, but that never took shape.
The Saters began leasing the site at Massachusetts Ave. and Brookline Street in 1969 and purchased it in 2014. It was, for many years, a Lebanese restaurant with nighttime belly-dancing entertainment. That establishment is still up and running, its two halves bracketing their smaller more upscale and intimate restaurant/club, ZuZu.
In 1987, through the urging and effort of the late promoter Billy Ruane, the Middle East facility transformed into a three-venue music club and was soon landing top local and national talent. The list is long. A few examples: Eminem, The Fall, the English Beat, Morphine, Blur, Mr. Lif and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Tony Bennett and Aerosmith played private VIP gigs.
In 2007, writing in the Boston Phoenix, I called the Middle East complex "the nexus of metro Boston's rock-club scene for local and touring bands.” In recent years, the club’s focus has shifted away from rock and toward hip-hop.
The future remains, as ever, uncertain. “We’re aging,” Sater, 72, said, of himself and his brother. “And the building is aging. After 50 years [of us being there] and the building being 120 years old, well, first of all, it’s falling apart. It’s very hard to operate the building.”
“I’m not giving anything up yet,” he added. “We’re going to stay open and keep booking bands and when something happens, we’ll let people know and give them enough time.”
A sale “could happen in a year or two years or down the road. We don’t have any expectations yet. There is no signed deal with anybody, but we are seriously looking. It could happen, it could never happen, but this is our intention. It’s if and when.”
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