by Shelby Russell
472-480 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02139
Bar/Nightclub, Concert Venue, Middle Eastern Restaurant
T Stop: Central Square (Red Line)
Price Range: $$$$$
Hours: Mon-Wed, Sun 11 am – 12:30 am
Thu-Sat 11 am – 1:30 am
When to visit: Thursday, Friday, Saturday; Late night
Praise: “Great small venue to check out bands on the weekends.”
“Downstairs is great for live music, drinking and dancing.” (yelp.com)
Boston is a city full of quirky, underground hangouts. If you’re in the mood to grab a bite of exotic food, listen to some live music, or have a drink with friends, you’ll find peace in The Middle East. The Cambridge-based music venue, restaurant, and nightclub, has everything that Boston venues have to offer, all in one location. On the corner of Mass Ave and Brookline Street, The Middle East has four different venue styles to choose from: Upstairs, Downstairs, the Corner, and Zuzu. The thing you can always count on from The Middle East is an interesting line-up each evening. Live music plays each night in both the nightclub and the restaurant, and you’ve probably never heard of them before. In a city where being hip is everything, The Middle East accomplishes this without being too underground to be popular. The venue prides itself on having a mix of both local and touring bands, so they get a fair amount of both popular and unknown artists. As far as musical genres, The Middle East has no boundaries; everything from hip hop, jazz, blues, funk, reggae, ska, pop, and punk is accepted and celebrated. The low-ceiling downstairs nightclub is small and intimate, with a capacity of 575 people. Whether you’re looking for a bite of cheap Middle Eastern food or a great band, you’ll find it at The Middle East.
What I love:
The best thing about The Middle East is the variety. They have great shows every night of the week; between the upstairs, downstairs, the corner, and Zuzu, there is never a dull moment at this place. It’s rare that you’ll have the same experience twice at The Middle East. This venue doesn’t discriminate against genre, so whether you’re in the mood for hip-hop, blues, or heavy metal, there will be a show for you. Most touring bands are booked in the downstairs, while upstairs usually hosts local artists.
Another thing this venue is great for is intimacy. The dimly lit basement is tight and cozy. If you’re easily claustrophobic, this may not be your kind of place. The stage is low to the ground, so if your favorite band is playing, it’s easy to get up close and personal. The sound quality is different depending on where you stand in the venue and can be rather loud, but what’s live music without a little ringing in your ears?
What I don’t:
I don’t have a lot of negative criticism about The Middle East but there is one major flaw: it is filthy. As a person who likes a good ole grungy bar, I was surprised to find a venue that I had a sanitary issue with. The downstairs smells like dust, sweat, and stale beer. Years of cobwebs cover the low ceiling and the bathrooms are some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Although it’s not the cleanest place, the grime adds to the ambiance of the venue; I like to think of it as a reminder of all the good times had there. If a little mess freaks you out, I wouldn’t suggest downstairs. However, the upstairs is kept nice and tidy.
The Boston music crowd is always on the hip side. With so many college kids in the area, the crowd is pretty young. Some have given negative reviews about the “rowdy high school kids,” but my guess is they’re all college freshman who are just inherently obnoxious. Being a freshman myself, I didn’t notice anything that annoyed me, but if you’re looking for an older, more sophisticated group, you might want to stick to upstairs.
Need to know:
Like I said already, the age of the crowd at The Middle East tends to be pretty young. Because of this, they are SUPER strict on having IDs to get in. If you’re underage, don’t plan on going to the bar. These people are seriously not down with underage drinking, so I wouldn’t even try it.
Nice to know:
The Middle East is located very close to a T stop, so if you’re worried about transportation, it should be fairly easy. However, if you’re driving, there is almost no parking in the area and you might have a bit of a hike. If you’re attending a show in the winter, you’ll want to check your coat. The downstairs can get extremely crowded and there is no air conditioner, so it does get hot and stuffy, even in winter.