Natalie Gravenor | Tuesday June 17th, 2014
Opened in 1974, Boston’s Rat Club (short for “Rathskeller“, a specific kind of typically German pub located in the cellar of a town hall) quickly became a nexus for Beantown’s local punk scene and a magnet for visiting dignitaries from out of town. Willie “Loco” Alexander was a regular with his Boom Boom Band, as were other Bostonian bands such as the J. Geils Band, the Cars, Mission of Burma, DMZ, Lyres and Pixies; Joan Jett, the Police, Sonic Youth, the Ramones, U2, R.E.M. and many, many others played the Rat when they toured the East Coast at that exciting moment of cult coolness between obscurity and stadium rock stardom. Audiences came from all over Boston and even from other towns such as Lowell, Amherst and Cambridge (home of Harvard University and M.I.T. – Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The Rat is credited with nurturing the not huge but influential scene (especially punk and postpunk) comparable to the role CBGB’s played in Lower East Side New York.
“It was a dark, dangerous, smelly place, where the entertainment was as strong as the drinks,“ is how filmmaker and musician Andrew Szava-Kovats remembers the Rat. Szava-Kovats, a founding member of EBM-cold wave band Data-Bank-A, settled in Massachusetts after moving from Edmonton, Canada. Svaza-Kovats spent his formative years at the club, an experience that shaped his later musical activities and development of his own DIY distribution network centering around the Grindstone music network (watch the documentary GRINDSTONE REDUX on realeyz.tv) and his own True Age Media publishing imprint. Szava-Kovats pays tribute to his regular haunt and captures a unique moment in music and urban history with his documentary LET’S GO TO THE RAT which features interviews with Willie Alexander, and other musicians who performed there as well as previously unreleased performance footage from the club’s punk and postpunk heyday.
The Rat survived the commercial breakthrough of punk rock as grunge in the early 1990’s (yep, Soul Asylum and Soundgarden played the Rat, too) but closed in 1997, after a 1996 subway flood made the already pungent smell unbearable and Boston University purchased the property on Kenmore Square for a development project. The building that housed the Rathskeller was demolished in 2000; in its place now stands the Commonwealth luxury hotel. While the last physical trace of the Rat has been erased, it lives on in memory and musical legacy.