Techno. House. Rap. Reggae. Those are just some of the genres of music Good Life played frequently during its 17 years in business. On Dec. 17, the downtown Boston bar will close permanently.
It’s a big loss for the local scene, says Rachel Domond of Boston, as she stands outside of the bar for its last Dancehall Lounge night on a recent Saturday. “There's so few spaces in general, like cultural spaces for people to convene, to have fun, to do their thing. And that Good Life is closing is mad trash, because what’s gonna happen to Boston nightlife?”
Other patrons at the bar echo similar sentiments. Saira Lopes, 34, has been frequenting Good Life for a decade. “Young people can come together, especially people of color, and we can have fun and we can get together, enjoy our own music…It’s really sad that this space that has been safe for so long is closing.”
With an inclusive music lineup, no dress code and close relationships with local DJs, Good Life was more than just a bar — it provided a welcoming space for local communities and was often a launchpad for Boston DJs to cut their teeth. “It was super important to have everything represented here,” says owner and DJ Peter Fiumara. His background in music gave him a unique lens through which he operated with bar. “It was really important to us that everyone felt welcome walking through that door.”
Fiumara opened Good Life in 2005 with his sister Marisa and brother Christopher as an “afterwork watering hole.” His siblings ended up leaving the business but Fiumara had a feeling that the bar could be more than just a place for workers to grab a drink after 5 p.m. “I thought, ‘what can we bring to this place that’s lacking in the city?’” Fiumara teamed up with Boston’s DJ Knife to book and work with DJs hailing from a wide spectrum of music genres.
In 2009, Chimel Idiokitas, or DJ ReaL P, was one of those musicians. “Back then, you either partied in the hood at like Kay’s Oasis…or you party at the clubs, at the Venues and Rumors and in the theater district,” Idiokitas says. “There was really no in-between, and I think Good Life really gave us that.”
Good Life also hosted DJ meetups, where local and out-of-town DJs could connect and learn from each other, including big names like DJ Craze. “It was an opportunity for me, a hip-hop DJ, to come meet the DJ who's doing music for the LGBTQ parties or the one’s doing the reggae parties,” Idiokitas says. In a 2018 piece for WBUR, Senior Arts & Culture reporter Amelia Mason covered the hostility rap and hip-hop DJs and artists face trying to book venues in Boston. But at Good Life, DJs were free to play and experiment. This extended beyond hip-hop and rap and into other niche genres like house and techno.
Sara Skolnick, who moonlights as genre-defying DJ Riobamba, started playing at Good Life in 2011 when she organized an edition of Picó Picante there, a party she co-founded with fellow DJ Ernesto Morales. “Good Life has been a disruptor in Boston, where cultural institutions often gatekeep and reflect the systemic segregation of the city itself,” Skolnick says. “Instead, Good Life provided a home where BIPOC folks, people of the global majority, LGBTQIA+ folks were actively centered, celebrated and received the top-notch hospitality that they deserve.”
Fiumara says that COVID-19 played a big factor in his decision to close down the bar. Profits lost during the pandemic made it hard to stay in business. “So it's not by choice. I’d be going right into 2023, if we could,” he says. “This is really difficult.” Despite applying to various COVID-19 relief funds, and after having his application for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund rejected, he felt it best to shut down Good Life completely. “I just wish there were more options for places like Good Life in this industry to survive.”
Good Life isn’t the first local music casualty of the pandemic. Allston’s Great Scott, which closed and is currently attempting to relocate, is just one example of neighborhood staples that have shuttered, either temporarily or permanently. It’s a worrying trend Idiokitas is seeing as a DJ. “There are spaces that really connect with a certain audience and it's so important that we keep those spaces,” he says. “Because at the end of the day, the creatives and the people who enjoy going out, the young people, we’re losing them to other cities because of places like Good Life closing.”
After announcing the closure on Instagram, Fiumara was shocked by hundreds of supportive comments flooding the post. “It made me emotional. I put my phone down, walk away and I come back,” he recalls. “My daughter, who's nine, picked up the phone and she's reading the comments. And the poor kid has tears streaming down her face because her whole life has been part of [Good Life]. I mean, we had her sixth birthday party there.”
It’s certainly not easy, says Fiumara. But he and countless others will cherish the memories made at Good Life. “I've met so many people out of this place that are now lifelong friends. It’s sad. But we had a real community here. For the time we were open, it was amazing.”
This segment aired on December 16, 2022.