Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Underbar - Boston, MA

275 Tremont St
Boston, MA 02116
(617) 292-7122

Underbar is perhaps one of Boston better dance clubs. The sound system, when installed in 2005, was reputed to be one of the better sound systems in town. I'd have to say that the sound is clean and powerful -- and contributes to a hot sound scene when the DJ is on queue. I've been to Underbar a dozen or so times -- and like it, but only to a point. Here are a few of my likes and dislikes:

Boston can be a pretty uptight town. Having fun seems antithetical to some of the Puritanical rules and mores that continue to pervade the city. Underbar and establishments like it are part of the push by many of the newer folks in town to change Boston's crusty demeanor. The music and scene are very different from the Boston of old: loud, active, and energetic. The crowd is pretty usually somewhat diverse too (though see a comment below) which adds to the atmosphere. During the World Cup, Underbar decorated the joint with flags from all of the World Cup countries while the go-go dancers, waitresses and bartenders wore shirts with the flags of the same. I've lived in Boston -- on and off -- since I was born here in the early 70s and I must admit that it's pretty cool to see that here in town. Maria, the manager, and Billy, a bartender along the main L-shaped bar at Underbar, round off my list of likes. Maria is always friendly and resolves any problems that arise with reservations, etc. Given the crowds that throng to the Underbar, that's not an easy job.

Staff at the Door / List Coordination
While the door staff and the coordination of VIP guest access are getting better, there's still a long way to go to perfect. Last weekend, I was invited to attend a vendor event at Underbar. The vendor had reserved two tables and invited me along with a few of my friends to their tables. As with all table reservations, the Underbar provides bottle service. At the end of the night, the vendor had spent more than $3,000 on drinks at the two tables for perhaps a total of 12 people. With that kind of pricetag, getting in to Underbar to access those tables shouldn't have been a big deal. My good friend and frequent partner in crime, Raj Banerjee (, was on the list of invited guests for the reserved tables. Despite being on the list and speaking with the bouncers at the doors several times, he waited for over 45 minutes to be let in the door. Raj had sent several text messages to me to ask me to provide assistance, but because I have Cingular (more on that in a subsequent post) cell reception at Underbar was nonexistent at our tables. Because he's a good friend, he stuck around to get in, but given the service level you expect when you host an event, our host and I were quite disappointed in the treatment Raj got. So, if you reserve a table or are hosting an event, make sure you designate a contact person at Underbar who can shepherd people who are on your list in to the tables should they arrive later than the pack.

Space, design and Layout
While part of the charm of the Underbar is its odd shape, that is also a weakness. The space doesn't flow very well -- and at peak crowds, it can be nearly impossible to access places only a few feet away. The design of the space itself -- in terms of interesting things to see is somewhat unimaginative. Layout and design aren't the only gripes I have, however. When you descend down to Underbar from Caprice, on most nights you can't help feeling that you've entered a locker room in which a sauna has gone awry. There is a steamy air about the place that one would think modern ventilation can deal with. Apparently not.

While the diversity of the crowd can be a major plus, there are nights where you get an infusion of, for lack of a better term, meatheads. I remember one night when I was with a group at a table that a particularly idiotic meathead wanted to pick a fight. While I can't say race played a role in his desire to pick a fight with me, I can't really find any other reason. He slammed himself into me as I tried to pass his group. Luckily, a much larger friend of mine approached this thug, and alerted him that much like the meathead, my group, too, had some muscle. So sad that these things happen -- but they do. That said, I'm not sure this comment is germane to just Underbar.

For a dance club in town, Underbar is one of your top bets. That's saying a lot about both Underbar and Boston.

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