If You Remember Boston’s Rathskeller, You’ll Throw up All Over This Story

talking heads the rat rathskeller boston 1979 boston globe

The Rat Suite in the Commonwealth Hotel is a fiercely ironic paean to the skeezy Rathskeller, a notorious old Boston punk bar. So why is Gina Smith so pissed off about it?

aNewDomain — People used to throw up all over the floor of The Rat. Drunks pissed in the mosh pit. Plenty of people got bruised up. It was smelly, stinky and loud. I probably should’ve been afraid to be in there. I wasn’t even legal.

But you couldn’t keep me away from The Rat. Damn, how I loved it.

Boston’s The Rat, short for Rathskeller, was home to some of the most amazing punk rock performances music has ever known. It was open for 27 years. As for me, I haunted it just for a couple of years in the late 1980s. And you know, I’ve lived all over the place since then and I’ve seen a lot of live music venues. I still haven’t experienced anything like it.

Maybe that explains my dark and nasty reaction to finding out from our travel editor yesterday, quite innocently, that The Rat of my youth now is immortalized. It’s immortalized in the form of a themed room at Boston’s swanky Commonwealth Hotel.

They call it The Rat Suite. It goes for about $850 a night.

the rat suite rathkellerListen. The Rat’s sticky little stage saw some incredible action: The Young Snakes (pictured, left). Joan Jett, The Dead Kennedys, The Police. The The. The Cars. John Doe and Xzene Cervenka all played tons of their earliest gigs there. And, oh god, the Violent Femmes, long live Gordon Gano, they were there, too. We at The Rat saw them all get down and dirty — and sometimes bloody– raging into the night, night after punk rock night, right there in skeezy Kenmore Square.

There are no more skeezy Kenmore Square nights, of course. The whole area is long since regentrified. No one really misses the trash in the streets. Or the mosh pit puking. Gordon Gano is still alive, I hear.

But there’s a place in hell reserved, if there is a hell, for the former Rathskeller manager hired as the “curator” of the so-called Rat Suite, the guy who filled it with lots of old Rat memorabilia on a budget of tens of thousands.

But I don’t mean that, do I?

I mean, just 24 hours ago, I’d practically forgotten The Rat. So what if a nice hotel memorializing all things great about Boston pays tribute to it. I love Boston. This should be a good thing, right?

But the disconnect gnaws at me. I am not the only one, I learn.

Vice.com told Blood for Blood founder Rob Lind about the room, and he said:

There’d better be human blood all over the floors of the room, syringes in the wastebaskets, herpes on the toilet seat, urine and feces in the sink, and shards of glass floating in the mini-bar beers.”

That’s a little harsher than my memory has it, but not by much. Agnostic Front’s Vinny Stigma has said that The Rat “had the most violent dance floor” ever, filled with “crazy kids and hard dancers.”

rathskeller the rat suite commonwealth hotel gina smith

the rat room audio cablesThe music writer at The Boston Globe, quoted Mighty Mighty Bosstones lead singer, Dicky Barrett with this about The Rat Suite:

If they’re going to catch the true essence of the Rat, then it has to be a horrible room,” said Dicky Barrett, frontman of the Boston-based Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who played, and was thrown out of, the Rat dozens of times. “It would reek of cigarette smoke and urine and vomit,” he said, “and have a bashed-in toilet, in honor of the one that was destroyed by rowdy patrons so many times that the owner finally boarded it up.” 

 

Yes, the Rat Suite would be cool only if it had a bashed in toilet, I think.

But I don’t really mean that, either.

I stay in plush hotel rooms all the time and, quite frankly, the plusher the better. It’s the height of hypocricy, this back and forth. And I end up wasting most of a night and part of a day Googling old videos and photos from The Rat, falling deeper and deeper into my funk and building a stronger and stronger resentment against a hotel room I’ve never seen.

This trailer from a video documentary about The Rat brought it all back … and it didn’t make things any better.

Live at The Rat documentary trailer: Andrew Szava-Kovats YouTube channel

Gone, Daddy, Gone

The Rat wasn’t pretty —  it was pretty disgusting, actually — but it was electric with the punk and alternative scene that so efficiently rescued my generation from supergroup pop slavery and delivered to it something raw. Something angry. And so fresh.

One of the guitars that used to hang on the wall at the skeezy Rat is again on display in the hotel suite.

The hotel tells guests not to play it and, given the condition of the guitar, they unbelievably obey. They don’t seem to play it. And they don’t steal it, deface it, or smash it through the window, either. That tells you who is not staying in the room, I think. But am I really advising people to smash the guitar? No, of course not. But …

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 1.11.39 AM

The mirror that used to be behind the bar with all the stickers of the bands that had played there? I hear it’s in the room. The old sign is in there. A famous old keyboard that I’m sure I never noticed the first time but now feels like old home to me.

 

talking heads the rat rathskeller boston 1979 boston globeThere are photos of Rat goers back in the day, framed and tastefully preserved.

I wonder if there’s a shot of me in there. I’d be the one in the ripped mini dress wearing Converse high tops, with the long spiky hair, dyed black.

Good lord.

In the room I hear there is an old suitcase that is not as well preserved, with ancient audio equipment inside.   rathskeller the rat suite commonwealth hotel gina smith

I want to smell it. The smell of The Rat would probably be a hard smell to shake, I think.

I remember hearing about The Talking Heads on stage at The Rat in … 1979? The Heads debuted, more or less, at The Rat back then, a full decade before I came to darken its doors.

 

I saw Sonic Youth at The Rat. I wish I had a shot of David Bowie at The Rat. I was there when he came in late one night, jamming and talking a lot of trash after his sold-out performance at the Boston Garden. There was a fight in the front of the stage as he played, I recalled, and a few people drunkenly yelling, “Shut up!” to the brawlers.

And yeah, the Garden is gone now, too.

As Gano once wailed, “Add it up!”

Not everything always adds up, though.

For aNewDomain, I’m Gina Smith.

See Terry Gardner’s far more level-headed take on The Rat Suite here.

Credits

David Bowie at the Rathskeller: Vice.com, All Rights Reserved

Original keyboard from The Rat: Shot by Zack Wittman for The Boston Globe, All Rights Reserved

Sonic Youth at The Rat: by JJ Gonson courtesy of Suburban Voice Fanzine, All Rights Reserved

Shot of the Young Snakes playing the Rathskeller in 1981: By David Henry (http://www.davidphenry.com/bands/bands006.htm) , via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Gina Smith

Gina Smith is a New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning journalist. A former correspondent for ABC News, Gina is the co-founder and editorial director of aNewDomain Media. Email Gina at gina@anewdomain.net and find her on Twitter @ginasmith888