The club first opened in 1985 on 21 Brookline Street and catered to a mostly Gay demographic. Over two decades it continued to evolve, becoming synonymous with fetish, leather, and goth. As a venue, it hosted many alternative (for the time) acts, including memorable performances from Alien Sex Fiend, and Nirvana. It also had a reputation for being strict about its dress code and protective of the alternative space it was providing.
This meant you couldn’t bring your friends to Man Ray unless they dressed in a way that was goth-compliant.
Before the party began, ManRay’s DJ Chris Ewen reassured me that I my blue jeans-wearing friend could tag along. “There really isn’t a dress code, although we are encouraging creative attire,” he said. “Or a bare all-black minimum.”
A few hundred people attended the reunion, and danced to ManRay staples selected by Ewen, who today is a living piece of Central’s bohemian history. Ewen began spinning at the club after moving from Detroit around the time it first opened. The 10 Year Reunion party also included a fashion show by Hubba Hubba, a notable fetish and leather shop which once stood at the entrance to Central’s subway station. The tone remained poignant because of the removal of such fixtures to Central Square’s culture.
Many veterans in attendance were drawn originally to ManRay because of it was a place they could express themselves freely. “ManRay was my first Gay Night, I was 19, 20 years old and it was unforgettable,” said an attendant named Rudie. “I never really went clubbing, or really went out besides a few shows, at the time, and it’s funny to recognize people from that era going about their lives,” he said. “I still recognize dancers.”
Both Chris Ewen and Terri (ManRay’s matriarch and “bartendrix extraodinaire”) are in relatively good spirits at the event. Following ManRay’s closure in 2005, two of their nights (“Crypt” & “Heroes”) were moved to T.T. the Bear’s, which recently announced in May that it, too, will be closing.
Many people were thinking about Central Square that night on Commonwealth Avenue.
“I eventually heard about ManRay from hanging out at Hubba Hubba,” said Rain, one of the models at the show. “I remember it pretty well, despite falling of the stage dancing to Peaches one time.”
“Central Square has changed,” she said. “It probably has more money, but I wish it was more tolerant of alternative lifestyles.”
Susie Phillips, owner of Hubba Hubba, feels that while her leather and sex boutique is still going strong, its time to move on. “Don’t get me wrong, we love our new side street location, but after doing this for 37 years, I want to sell it,” she said. “I’ve done it, I want to move on. I want to buy a house on Cape Cod, move into the woods and run around with dogs.”
Goth as a fashion statement and style of post-punk music has been remerging with the rise of bands like Savages, Prayers, and O.Children — bands that have been championed by Pitchfork and Noisey. Twitter hashtags for conceptual categories that arguably don’t exist, like #healthgoth and #witchhouse, are used in common online parlance. Yet ManRay is still looking for a place to be resurrected.
For many of the goths recounting the most salacious and lascivious details from their nights in ManRay and its infamous basement, the most vulgar topic of the night was the cost of rent. “Cambridge is out of control, but the situation is unsustainable everywhere,” said ManRay veteran Andrea Mangini. “Why is a two bedroom anywhere in Everett $3200? Why is a one bedroom in Somerville $2500?”
Cambridge may be getting more livable for some, but for these goth partygoers, its just more gloom and doom.