This is not Tasty Burger. Or, at least, this is not the Saturday night, 3 a.m., loud and bustling, ketchup-spills-on-the-floor haven for drunk 19-year-olds that I know well. This is Tasty Burger on a Thursday at ten p.m.
People are eating rushed, late dinners; some are chatting, and the staff is decidedly at ease. At most, there are one or two inebriated students in the whole place. There is live music scheduled downstairs.
I recognize that it’s egregiously early to be treating myself to drunk food, but I’m here primarily to see the concert. Several weeks ago, Tasty Burger announced that it would start featuring live music in its underground space.
I’ve never before ventured to the basement level of Tasty, but I soon find the aesthetic evokes man-cave meets hip San Francisco restaurant, complete with pool table, bar, and seating. In just one flight of stairs, the lighting turns from bright to dim, and neon bar signs begin to dot the walls. There are leather-cased menus, instead of paper, and orderly condiments arranged on silver tables. Some patrons are relaxing on low couches.
I’ve dragged two of my roommates along with me, and they’re enjoying their chocolate shakes and fries. With a white paper bag clutched in my hand, I steer us towards a table next to the sliver of a stage in the back of the room. The show is supposed to be starting now, but so far there is no sign of a band.
The underground space was once a music venue, which is one reason that Dave Dubois, CEO of the Franklin Restaurant Group (parent company of Tasty Burger), wanted to re-establish performances in the Harvard Square location. “There used to be live music down there, a real long time ago,” Dubois says. “It’s a pretty cool place, and we thought underground Tasty would be a nice activity.”
And it is a pretty cool place, what with the tattooed 20-somethings playing pool to my right and graffiti-like wall murals to my left. It’s just the place you might find a band casually rocking out on a Thursday night. But five minutes later, the stage is still empty.
Brian Reyelt, director of marketing, events and PR at the Franklin Restaurant Group, tells me that they’ve worked with a couple different independent booking agents to find the right bands. They’re planning on featuring live, mostly acoustic music on a few weekday nights. “We want music that people can enjoy and still eat dinner and shoot pool,” he explains. He makes a distinction: “We have live music, we don’t have live shows.” It’s probably best they leave Saturdays unbooked.
The concept of live music in a fast food restaurant is novel, but it fits with the evolution of the rest of the Square. “Truth is, there’s a real renaissance of music going on in Harvard Square, and it’s trying to tap into what it used to be years ago when it had a lot of nightlife and good restaurants,” Dubois says. “Just funky things you didn’t see in other parts of the city necessarily.”
It does seem like plenty of the restaurants in the Square are now featuring live music, but Dubois and Reyelt are adamant about keeping Tasty Burger quintessentially Tasty, citing venues like The Middle East and the Sinclair as distinct from what they’re trying to achieve.
Apparently, the shows thus far have been impressive. “A lot of the Boston and Cambridge music scene has been down there and I’ve been getting calls and they’re like, ‘Wow, that was a really good show, I liked that band,’” Dubois says. He adds that they’re going to put an upright piano in the space.
It’s been 15 minutes now, and my little container of fries is almost empty. After consulting my roommates, I get up to ask a waitress the all-important question: Is there going to be music tonight? She looks a little flustered and responds with, “Oh, I don’t think there is. I don’t think the band showed up.”
Dejected, I head back to my seat. What? There’s no music? I just downed greasy food on a Thursday night for nothing? I had held out hope that maybe, just maybe, those tattooed hipsters playing pool had been warming up for a show.
My roommates and I stay downstairs for another ten minutes, just talking. I put my notepad away when I finally accept that there won’t be a performance to write about. It’s no big deal, though. Those fries were really tasty—even sober.