SPACE EXPLORATION: The Milky Way’s digs can’t be replicated, but its spirit might.
They blew down our Deli Haus, plucked our Lily’s, changed our Channel, exterminated our Rat, death-rayed our Man Ray, and (uh . . . ) union-busted our Local 186. Those elusive “market rates” give nary a shit about our good times, and they will continue to rise as they see fit. To those of us long-familiar with the routine fucking of our ever-fledgling nightlife, the news last week of the impending disappearance of Bella Luna and the Milky Way from Hyde Square may have come as a particularly painful blow (“JP just got more boring,” bemoaned one poster on board.lemmingtrail.com. “Absolutely devastating” yelped a Yelper.) But it didn’t come as a complete surprise. I mean, did it?
When rent waters rise, it’s our foundations that flood first. Faced with an 85 percent increase in their rent (up to a whopping $24,000, according to the Jamaica Plain Gazette), the restaurant/club — which is considered by many JP residents as the social hub of Hyde Square, if not the whole dang Plain — is putting out oars and making for safer seas.
“If you’re a business renting a space, it’s not like being a resident. You don’t have a whole lot of rights when it comes to being a tenant,” co-owner Carol Downs tells me as we sit in the patio in back of Bella Luna — which, contrary to the gestures of a screwed business, is freshly painted. They might not count as residents, but the Milky Way has been nothing if not a good neighbor. To the hundreds who come in and out of the place each week — for pizzas, community meetings, salsa dancing, live-band karaoke, candlepin bowling, or dozens of other reasons — it’s hard to think of it as anything but the space where the very life of Jamaica Plain gets actualized, in endlessly varying forms, every night of the week, with the aid of awesome cocktails.
Add to this versatility and ultra-posi functionality the unique layout of the Milky Way (established 1999, the former JP Bowl, painted pretty, an elaborate bar and lounge built over lanes 1, 2 and 3, low lounge lighting, leather couches, glitzy touches) and its singular ambiance (on one night, the faint clatter of candlepins beneath a young secretary’s violent but earnest rendition of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”) and you have the makings of some serious no-other-place-like-it notoriety. And in an increasingly priced-out city like Boston, this often also equals the set-up for some major music-scene weltschmerz.
I’m hoping we can avoid this communal poutiness altogether. For one thing, the Milky Way is “merging” with Bella Luna and moving, not closing. Its new space has been identified as the Brewery complex between the Green Street and Stony Brook stops on the Orange Line, and though the new Luna won’t have the same sprawling capacity as the long former lanes of Centre Street, the plan is to continue hosting some form of live music — albeit of a more compact stripe. (Think solo artists and DJs.)
For another thing, there’s one big, long, healthy year left in the current space. Anyone who has taken advantage of the scads of free programming there of late can attest to the Milky’s enduring freshness. Increased patronage now ensures a stronger start at the new space —which will sport an outdoor patio around the base of the colossal Haffenreffer smokestack.
After all is said and done, moreover, the main difference here is the candlepin bowling, and, frankly, none of you was very good at it anyhow. I’ve watched you. Our city may be shedding seven lanes, but we can take solace in knowing that we’re not smothering many rising welterweight candlepin stars in the process.
But one of the elements that makes news of this sort-of-closing announcement sting so much is the ease with which one could get all personal with the club. I have a year’s worth of Mary-oke to thank for the refining of my now-sterling version of “Kissing a Fool.” It’s the place where I once hugged the World Series Trophy, where I bowled my first candlepin strike, where I ripped my first pair of pants dancing. It’s where the Goodridges had the reception after gay marriage was legalized. It’s where Mango’s Latin Dance Party lived. It’s where countless community meetings, work parties, first dates, final shows, auspicious debuts, and absolute trainwrecks have taken place. If the Milky Way’s digs can never be replicated, there’s a good chance that its spirit can.
“We’ve always been a gathering space for everyone in the community,” says a bummed but ungloomy Downs, “and we’ll continue to be. You’ve got to stay tough-minded, resilient, and 100 percent dedicated to your mission and concept to survive — and that’s what we’re doing.