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A Tour of Boston Punk Rock History Past and Present

When a city is nicknamed “Rat City,” you hope it’s for a good reason. Allston, Massachusetts is that city, so-called thanks to its place in Boston’s punk rock history.

by Megan Hennessey | January 31, 2022

When a city is nicknamed “Rat City,” you hope it’s for a good reason. Allston, Massachusetts is that city, so-called thanks to its place in Boston’s punk rock history. Step onto the Green Line T and witness the gaggles of students who board; Boston University and Boston College both have stops on the line. These younger crowds have historically kept the punk scene alive that exploded just a few T stops away in Kenmore Square. 

A quick tour through Boston’s punk history

Kenmore Square is a fascinating blend of sports and music. The Green Monster at Fenway has seen iconic punk venues in Kenmore open and close over the past several decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, Lansdowne Street was the place to be. The House of Blues’ Fenway location, which opened in 2009, sits at the original location of Spit Club, one of Boston’s first punk clubs.

Did you know the House of Blues used to the The Spit Club?

Patrick Lyons, the man behind the club and so many other iconic music venues in Boston, wanted to come up with the grossest name he could think of for a club. The club lived up to its name: The Boston Herald described it as “a decadent den of iniquity.” Partiers could expect a wild night at Spit, whether it was knocking back A “mat drink” (so named by the bartender and singer of Human Sexual Response, Dini Lamot, because it was a combination of liquors that had spilled into the bar mats) or dance up a sweat to bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Lizzie Borden & the Axes. 

Just across the way was The Ratskeller, nicknamed “The Rat.” The name hints at what to expect when you would walk in: “Ratskeller” refers to a basement restaurant. Musicians like punk icons The Dropkick Murphys speak lovingly of performing in the space. Punk rock fans of all ages could stop in for a matinee or for the three-day Punk Rock Olympics; the raucous evening shows were reserved for 18+. In a delightful, surprising twist, you could also get barbecue from Hoodoo BBQ, which was on the first floor of The Rat. Sadly, The Rat met the same fate as Spit, closing in 1997, to make way for the Hotel Commonwealth.

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Keeping punk alive in Rat City

Rat City still has a few favorite spots for fans. Along Commonwealth Avenue, a black and white marquee announces itself among coffee shops and vintage stores. Welcome to the Paradise Rock Club. It was started in 1977 after a number of failed attempts in the same location. It has seen a number of musical legends, from Aerosmith to Blondie grace its stage. Today, you can see pop punk groups like Mayday Parade or alternative mainstays like Barns Courtney perform there. Part of what makes Paradise Rock Club so wonderful is the space. It has the makings of a great punk venue with its black walls, no windows, and a wide-open floor. The other element that makes the venue a must-visit is its size. Less than 1,000 concert-goers can fit into the space, giving the space an electric energy. The stage sits only a few feet above the ground. The entire space is for standing-room only. When the lights come up on performers, half the crowd is captured in the glow. Unlike other, larger venues, where ticket prices can easily climb into triple digits, The Paradise offers general admission between $25-$40.

Wander further down Commonwealth Avenue and you’ll stumble upon Brighton Music Hall. Time Out Boston notes that this space is often overlooked next to The Paradise. But the history of the space looms large. Before Brighton Music Hall, it was Harper’s Ferry. First opened in 1970, Harper’s Ferry became a refuge for bands after The Rat shut down. The Dropkick Murphys graced the stage as well as groups like Fall Out Boy. But on Halloween 2010, Harper’s Ferry would also close its doors. Citizens Bank, who owns Brighton Music Hall, opened the venue just a few months later. 

If you’re itching to see even more, you can hop across the river to Cambridge, Massachusetts to see performers at The Middle East. Located in Central Square, The Middle East announces itself from the street with its bright yellow letters and electric purple background along with a gorgeous mural that stretches down the wall. It’s a space that wears many hats: it’s a restaurant as well as a venue with several different spaces to catch a performance. The largest space, called Downstairs, fits just under 600 people, offering an intimate show for punk and rock fans alike. One of its smaller spaces, Sonia, also pays homage to beloved nightclub Manray, through its Manray nights. You can rock a leather corset or a ripped pair of fishnets and jam to new wave and punk. Just remember the rule: “Just make sure you don’t wear anything even vaguely suggestive of ‘prepdom’” and have a blast.

Megan Hennessey

Megan Hennessey

Megan is a freelance writer and editor who has loved exploring Boston since she first moved here. When she's not seeing punk shows, you can find her hunting for antique furniture. Come say hi on Twitter at @HegMennessey or on her website, meganhennesseywrites.com

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