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Uncertainty Over Cantab Lounge's Future As Owner Announces Intention To Sell

The Cantab Lounge in Cenral Square in Cambridge. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Cantab Lounge in Cenral Square in Cambridge. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Cantab Lounge, a beloved Cambridge dive bar and music venue, is up for sale.

The news was confirmed on the Cantab’s official Facebook account in a statement from owner Richard “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. “After 50 years of good times and good friends I have made the decision to put The Cantab Lounge up for sale,” the statement read in part. The sale is being handled by Goodman & Company Business Brokers with an asking price of $240,000.

Fitzgerald left open the possibility that the bar could reopen in phase four: “The Cantab is currently closed, due to the governor’s order that all bars will remain closed until a vaccine or credible treatment has been identified. We look forward to opening just as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The statement capped several days of uncertainty as rumors of the Cantab’s potential sale spread, sparking fears that the popular neighborhood watering hole would never reopen. Mickey Bliss, who books bands in the Cantab’s basement under his production company Club Bohemia, said the bar’s manager told him to remove his sound system from the club. “[He] called me Saturday and told me, when I got a chance, to come in and get all my equipment out of there because they were selling [the bar],” Bliss said. “I guess he really didn't say it wasn't going to reopen back up. I just assumed that because he told me to take my stuff out.”

Since the statement from Fitzgerald, however, Bliss said he would be allowed to leave his equipment at the Cantab if he chose. He thought it was possible the bar would reopen. “I'm thinking that maybe it won’t [sell], and maybe it will reopen and I'll be able to do shows,” he said. “But I really don’t know.”

Simone Beaubien, who runs the Boston Poetry Slam series on Wednesday nights at the Cantab, was less optimistic. “My assumption is that ... anyone who makes a purchase is not going to maintain the lounge in the way that it is. It's a struggling dive bar,” she said. “But it's also possible that it won't sell because of the real estate situation everywhere, and the economy. So the future is really uncertain for the bar.”

The Cantab Lounge in Central Square in Cambridge. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Cantab Lounge in Central Square in Cambridge. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Cantab is a Central Square fixture, loved not just for its cheap drinks and scrappy vibe, but for being a convener of local musicians and artists. The Boston Poetry Slam, the longest-running slam in the area, has been hosting weekly events at the club since 1992. Bliss launched Club Bohemia in 1993 at the (now defunct) Kirkland Cafe and moved into the Cantab basement in 2007, transforming the club into a bastion for local underground rock bands. The Cantab was also home to a massively popular Tuesday night bluegrass series, which nurtured a thriving contingent of young, forward-thinking bluegrass musicians thanks in part to its popularity among Berklee students.

News of the Cantab’s potential sale stoked anxiety about the future of independent venues in the era of COVID-19. Two beloved local clubs, Great Scott in Allston and the Milky Way Lounge in Jamaica Plain, recently announced that they would not reopen. Even before the pandemic, events at the Cantab were drawing smaller crowds and the club was struggling. “Business was going down, the revenue was going down, the expenses were going up,” Bliss said.

“For the city, the loss of any live performance venue is an enormous loss, especially one like the Cantab, that doesn't engage in the sort of gatekeeping that venues running at a higher financial caliber are able to,” Beaubien said. “The Cantab was a really open space.” The club's sale, she added, “is going to be enormous for everybody who uses the Cantab.”

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Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for The ARTery, WBUR's arts and culture team. She covers everything from fine art to television to the inner workings of the Boston music scene.

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