News » Local

Historic Boston Nightclubs Ramrod and Machine Permanently Closed

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 30, 2020

Ramrod and Machine, the last two queer nightclubs in Boston's Fenway neighborhood, permanently shuttered their doors just before quarantine & won't be coming back — not because of COVID-19; rather, because the building that housed the popular nightspots will be demolished and replaced with luxury apartments.

A feature on WBUR looks back at the history of both establishments and their impact on the local queer community. Ramrod opened in 1981, a "leather and Levi's gay bar," on the first floor and eventually leading to the opening of Machine in the downstairs area in 1998.

Both clubs, with a dingy vibe, were popular spots for drag and theatrical shows such as All-Star Mondays and performances staged by Ryan Landry's Gold Dust Orphans, a vaudeville-inspired theater troupe. Many of the venues' regular patrons have described both as "home," sex-positive and queer-welcoming spaces where they belonged — especially in the still-puritanical bathhouse-less Boston, and with a gay scene still largely dominated by white, cis, gay men.

Prior to Ramrod's and Machine's closure, staff began to notice the owners — neither of whom commented for the WBUR story — seemed disinterested in the clubs. Patrons had hoped for a farewell bash, but club manager Sean Caron posted on Facebook in July that construction permits had been granted to the British company that will build apartments on that plot, with construction to begin in the Fall.

While Club Cafť in Back Bay, The Alley in the Downtown district, and Blend in Dorchester remain as some of the few gay nightlife vestiges in Boston, the closures of Ramrod and Machine point to a complex LGBTQ history in the city. Mark Krone, a board member of The History Project, contends that gay nightlife never really recovered after the AIDS epidemic — and that it would be too easy to blame a faltering nightlife on the prevalence of dating apps. The question remains as to if and how LGBTQ nightlife in Boston might bounce back in the wake of COVID-19.

Read the feature on Ramrod and Machine here.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.