Step Upstairs to go underground
The Boston Globe Calendar, "Morse Code"
April 9, 1998 - page 29
"Lines of hopeful Boston College fans formed at clubs around North Station last Saturday night. The BC hockey team was in the NCAA final against Michigan inside the FleetCenter, only to lose in overtime. When the final goal was scored, I was in Sully's Tap across the street, watching a small group of Michigan fans hug each other while everyone else was in stunned disbelief.
As fans filed out of the Fleet, some of them repaired to already packed bars like Sully's, the Harp, the Irish Embassy Pub, McGann's, and the new Hooters.
But one nearby spot, the Upstairs Lounge, seemed far from the crowd - and that's the way the club likes it. The Upstairs Lounge is not into meathead jocks or anything resembling that kind of animal.
Instead, the Upstairs Lounge - located above the Penalty Box bar at the corner of Causeway and Lancaster streets - is an alternative, bohemian cavern, dripping with underground hipness and attitude. Last Saturday, you would have had no idea that a hockey game of any sort was going on in the neighborhood.
The lights inside the small, 120-capacity club were haunted-house dark, with dimly lit candles at the tables, a flickering candelabrum overhead, and muted strobes on the dance floor. It looked like the scene of a techno-Halloween party. Indeed, techno music was blaring from the speakers, first from records played by DJ Macro (who alternates Saturdays with DJs Darcy and Liz), then by a live duo called Formal Operations, which combined stark, intergalactic synth rhythms with customized violin sounds and exotica.
"Boston lacks a variety of underground alternative clubs - and we're trying to fill that gap," said manager Rice Blanco, who has previously worked at Man Ray in Cambridge and Hexx in the Theater District.
The Upstairs Lounge opened last September as Sugarbabys, but changed the name to the Upstairs Lounge in January. It targets a hipper-than-most club crowd by offering three distinct dance nights, at a $5 cover charge per evening.
Thursday is Atomic Lounge, with DJ Big Daddy spinning lounge, swing, and rockabilly tracks, often with the audience dressed up stylishly for the occasion. Martini drinks are served, going by such names as the Paisley Martini and the Boston Bullet. Friday is The Pill, with DJs Ken and Jennifer taking dancers on a time-tunnel trip from '60s British Invasion rock to '90s Britpop. A writer from England's NME magazine has termed it "the coolest night in Boston."
Saturday's industrial night is called "Next." That's when you can count on plenty of black leather in the crowd. And some good music, if you're into techno. Last Saturday, DJ Macro offered an edgy, mind-zapping blend of tracks from Front 242 and Skinny Puppy to the Sneaker Pimps.
Upstairs Lounge manager Blanco, whose promotion company is named Kewlwerkz, has brought over some of the crowd from Man Ray and Hexx, along with some new faces. The Upstairs Lounge is still a work in progress (you may remember this club in earlier incarnations as Chet's Last Call and the Causeway), but if you're after intimate dance nights with pronounced themes, this is a worth a look."
Raising the lid on Boston's nightlife
The Boston Herald, "Places"
January 2, 1998 - page S22
".... [The Upstairs Lounge], where rockers in leather jackets once nodded on the bar to the strains of weird New-Wave house bands or slam-danced to local punk acts such as the Dogmatics, changes to the scenery are more obvious. The '80s rock club space, resurrected briefly in the '90s as The Causeway, is now known as the Upstairs Lounge, a stylish little joint with a fresh purple and black paint job, a long martini menu and cocktail lounge decor details (black Naugahyde benches, candlelit tables, giant paper fans on the walls.)
The club is open during most FleetCenter concerts as well as on Thursdays for Atomic Lounge (swing, rockabilly, and lounge spins), on Fridays for the Pill (Brit pop and mod) and on Saturdays for NEXT ...
Manager Rice Blanco, a former Man Ray manager who created Hexx and took the program with him to the Penalty Box, says the crowd at the Upstairs Lounge has been well mixed (everyone from Brit-fops to fetishists, with an age range spanning from about 21 to mid-40s) and enthusiastic, stemming from a strictly word-of-mouth buzz. "We had one write-up, but it was a pretty good one," says Blanco, referring to a rave review in the influential English music paper NME. "They were following the Verve around the country and doing side stories on clubs in the States," Blanco explains. "They said Boston was the best stop on the tour and this was the Brit-pop scene to check out ...."
".... Friday night at The Upstairs Lounge, up by North Station, goes by the banner The Pill and DJs Ken and Jennifer promise "the best in Britpop and mod." When we arrived, ludicrously early, this seems to constitute the fop end of proceedings overlayed with Eighties Europop, but as the night goes on and more people turn up, the music gradually turns toward a sterling mixture of Sixties soul, Motown and, hey, whaddya know, The Verve. "Bittersweet Symphony" has everyone dancing, or at least the most stylish members of the clientele. Having guzzled enough JD to floor an elephant, we feel just about ambassadorial enough to go off and make some new friends.
"I hope you're not going to think this is typical of Boston," says Matt Fishbeck, one of the night's hosts. "There's not a lot of cool people in Boston and most of the ones that are, are here. American musical culture is pretty shit at the moment, so maybe British bands like The Verve might do well here. There's definitely a space waiting to be filled."
As The Maker posse hits the decks and introduces Stone Roses and "This is Music" to proceedings, the favourable response suggests that the spirit we're looking for might not be so far away."
A Storm In Boston
New Musical Express (NME)
November 22, 1997 - p. 37
"Boston, Massachusetts, November 1997. The revellers of The Pill Club (Friday nights at The Upstairs Lounge) are gossiping around the bar like a bunch of Vera Duckworths with her curlers in down the Rovers. This is Britpop Night, "the coolest club night in Boston", home to "the coolest people in Boston," several of whom are doing a fair impersonation of Menswear And Pals, The Camden Years. It is, therefore, more Britfop Night with the emphasis on dandily-hued shirtwear and curlicued sidey hair bits.
Thus Britpop faves include Dubstar, Saint Entienne and the Pet Shop Boys (as well as Britpop legends The Smiths, The Clash, Joy Division and, yes, The Verve), all blaring round a circular dance floor filled with young men pretending to be trees and/or hands-behind-back speed-skaters in a bewildering spectacular probably called Britpop On Ice (Liam and Patsy are the New Torvill and Dean! Except there's no sniff of Oasis round these parts, pal) ...."
For young people, Swing is the Thing
The Boston Globe
July 25 1998 - Front page
".. Forrest Frazier, the disk jockey known as Big Daddy, started a swing night about nine months ago at the Upstaris Lounge near North Station, inspired by clubs he had visited on the West Coast and in New York. And in the past few months, other area venues ... have added a swing night, either with a DJ or a live band.
"Ever since the Gap ad or maybe a little before we've been at capacity," Frazier said. "Our dance floor is always packed." ..."It's very social," said Frazier. "You can go there, not knowing anyone, and you can go up to anyone and dance with them. There's a lot of camaraderie."