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Middle East Nightclub Co-Owner Steps Down Amid Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Middle East
One of the co-owners of the storied Middle East Nightclub and Restaurant has stepped down following allegations of sexual misconduct.

A co-owner of Central Square's Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub has resigned following a series of sexual misconduct allegations that the venue's owners say are false.

Middle East announced co-owner Joseph Sater's plans to retire in a Facebook post on August 28. Sater had managed the nightclub, a Cambridge musical mainstay since its founding in 1974, for 44 years.

“Admittedly, it’s been challenging to find an appropriate way to respond to unsubstantiated third-party claims on social media,” Middle East's management wrote in the post. “We can say, unequivocally, that the allegations being spread online are absolutely not true and that just being publicly accused is absolutely devastating.”

The post noted that the restaurant’s goal is to create “a warm, respectful, safe — and, as a music venue — fun work environment.”

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“We always strive to do better and we sincerely apologize if any current or former employees have not had a positive experience or have felt unsafe,” it read.

Neither the restaurant nor its owners could be reached for comment. 

Rumors of sexual misbehavior first surfaced about a year ago. In fall 2017, a DJ wrote an online post alleging that one of the Middle East's owners had assaulted multiple women.

The details were and have remained murky. The post named no names. No victims subsequently came forward with stories. And the Cambridge Police Department has not received any complaints about Slater, according to CPD spokesperson Jeremy Warnick.

Still, the allegations generated backlash. Some musical groups canceled their performances and offered statements of protest, though at least one organization — the organizers of "Grassfed Disco" parties — acknowledged in their statement that "we have no real insight or knowledge about these allegations."

Things went quiet for a few months. But over the summer, the issue arose anew when Alex Pickert, a former Middle East employee, penned an explosive Facebook post dubbing the work environment at the restaurant "toxic."

Pickert wrote in the August 18 post that he quit working at the restaurant because he'd given up hope of changing things for the better. He wrote that he and a few others in the restaurant had pushed internally for improvements including the removal of the accused owner and the undertaking of sexual harassment trainings with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

These efforts ultimately failed, Pickert wrote. BARCC terminated its services and Sater, who had taken a leave of absence from Middle East following the online accusations, returned to the restaurant four months later.

“I was wrong to have gone along with the company as long as I did, but with the hopeful facade of them taking the situation seriously, I stayed,” Pickert wrote. “I realize that I have been complicit in my silence and wanted to detail and share my experience."

Sater previously told the Boston Globe that his decision to take a leave was "in the best interest of the business at that time." He also told the Globe that he is retiring so as to cease distracting the business and "the staff I care so deeply about."

More musicians distanced themselves from the Middle East in the wake of Pickert's post.  

Boston band Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys announced on Twitter on August 23 that it would donate all its profits from its show with Negrito on August 29 to the BARCC. Other bands have canceled or moved shows at Middle East, including The Hotelier, The Courters, and The Worriers. 

Heather McCormack, a member of the local band Boston League of Wicked Wrestlers who books the group’s events, said she became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct against Sater in Nov. 2017. Though Pickert sought to convince the group to keep their reservation, pointing to the BARCC trainings, McCormack ultimately pulled the plug, citing safety issues for performers.

“My main concern was at that point, they had not made any sort of public statement acknowledging that these issues had come up,” McCormack said.

McCormack also said she thinks Sater's resignation will do little to fix the situation at Middle East.

“I think it’s totally abating the issue, and it’s not taking any sort of systemic, structural step to prevent issues like this from arising in the future,” McCormack said. “Even if this one individual is denying his involvement, there were significant structural and systemic failures at the Middle East that came to light as a result of these allegations.”

—Staff writer Leon K. Yang can be reached at leon.yang@thecrimson.com.

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