Bunratty’s/Melody Lounge/Local 186/The Wonder Bar

Bunratty’s/Melody Lounge/Local 186/The Wonder Bar

In 1885, the site of Bunratty’s was owned by wealthy area residents the Baldwin family, and the brick building itself was constructed in 1920 at 186 Harvard Avenue in the heavily Irish Allston/Brighton neighborhood. Much later, it became a bar and was named after an Irish castle, but it originally opened as a Vaudeville theatre that morphed briefly into a movie theater. Decades later, Dennis Mullins bought the bar and had his grand opening party on September 10, 1969. Mullins was an interesting character who once took out his pistol during an after hours moment; and in front of a small group of friends, regulars and club employees doing clean-up, put a few bullets into the mounted moose head hung high on the wall behind the main bar. In it’s heyday, and for well over a decade, the venue hosted two to four bands a night: seven days a week; three hundred and sixty five days a year. Much of this new operational management and organizational behavior, and the resulting success it brought, can be directly attributed to fellow Irishman Mickey O (Halloran), followed by Dave Gee (Giammatteo) and then back to The Mick; who were the managers and booking agents during these great years. Together they also owned The Beat Magazine, a weekly fanzine supporting the club and the Boston music scene. During one of the greatest periods of entertainment in the Massachusetts music industry, Bunratty’s personified a time and an era where area artists shared the attitude that everyone in the industry, including performers, production crews, club owners and employees, members of the entertainment press and all their fans and groupies, were on the same team. Bunz was one of the most important places to play and to be seen. During the seventies, eighties and early nineties Boston boasted a ton of different places to perform. It was a multi-college town with two music schools Berklee and The Conservatory: where young students from all over the world brought their talents; and people had plenty of disposable income to support this overflow of excellence. It was the perfect time for this club to exist. The actual blue print physical layout was and is a stage, bar and bathrooms on the main floor with a bar and restrooms downstairs for when people needed a break from the consistently hectic and loud environment upstairs. In back is an alley for bands to load in where every person who has ever been there still shares stories of sex and drugs and rock and roll and cops. In August 1987, roller-skating doorman Abel Harris, a well liked kid, was murdered by an angry patron and Dennis sold the bar to his girlfriend and accountant Lorraine Curtis the next year; in 1988. The night Abel was shot the metal band Bang was playing and many people in the packed place thought the loud noise of the gun fire was a part of their show. Shortly after, David Gee left and Mickey O and his experience were brought back in to help restore a sense of normalcy and increase the immediate and drastic drop in attendance and revenue. In the early nineties, Lorraine turned management over to George and Doug Mellen the father and son team who had previously owned the Punk and New Wave club Green Street Station, in Jamaica Plain, with the signed understanding they would renovate the premises and then buy it. The failure for this to occur as planned still has two sides to the story. One: management went awry and too much money was being spent and Two: Lorraine got a better offer and deal by selling the license and venue to Pat Lyons and The Lyons Group, who already had a mini-monopoly on neighborhood nightclubs. During their brief ownership, the Mellens changed the name from Bunratty’s to the Melody Lounge; named after the 1942 Coconut Grove fire that killed four hundred and ninety two people in the deadliest nightclub disaster in history. The bad vibe caused by the name change ended when Lorraine took back ownership of the club from The Mellens and sold the package to Pat Lyons and The Lyons Group in 1993 instead. The Lyons Group changed the name from the Melody Lounge to Local 186, named after the structure’s physical address. Bands continued to be booked during their ownership. The club was again sold to current owner Noah Eisendrath who took over on September, 9, 2005 and changed the name to The Wonder Bar. During this new age of the internet and the drastic change in the neighborhood’s residents from Irish families to a college student ghetto; Noah has ended live bands and switched to DJ’s as he successfully accommodates the change in patrons, the higher cost of operations and the much stricter alcohol laws. Bunratty’s is still vibrant and still packed. But in a different era and with a different name.

ARTISTS WHO PLAYED AT BUNZ BEFORE THEY GOT FAMOUS: Johnny A (The Streets, Hidden Secret, Hearts On Fire) now in The Yardbirds. Stu Kimball (Face To Face) has been in Bob Dylan’s recording and touring band forever. Aimee Mann (‘Til ‘Tuesday). Golden Joe Baker the Elvis impersonator before his Las Vegas success. Comedians Steve Sweeney and Chance Langton doing their shtick before being in movies.

ARTISTS IN NATIONAL BANDS WHO PLAYED AT BUNZ: Peter Tork (The Monkees), Bebe Buell (Liv Tyler’s mom and Todd Rundgren and Steve Tyler‘s baby mama), Barry Cowsill (The Cowsills) in The Allston Brothers Band. Big Al Anderson (NRBQ), Alex Taylor (oldest brother of James) in Alex Taylor, James Montgomery and The Funkbusters. James Montgomery (Johnny Winter) in The Funkbusters and The James Montgomery Band.

PEOPLE YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN IN THE AUDIENCE: Peter Wolf (The J.Geils Band) who once almost had his car towed away while watching a band inside. Jimmy Miller, producer extraordinaire of The Rolling Stones, Motor Head, Blind Faith, Jethro Tull and many others. Bob Gamere, who once hosted ‘Candlepins For Cash’ on local TV 38, was a sportscaster for The Yankees, and is in the Hall Of Fame as a notorious bad boy.

MAGNIFICENT MOMENTS: Tex Mex icon Joe Ely (The Flatlanders) coming in to play pool downstairs after a gig at Nightstage. Slash (Guns N Roses) in a top hat coming in to check out a local band. Bono (U2) with a handful of his crew checking out the group onstage the night before his band played the Worcester Centrum. They sat at a table in front and Bono didn’t drink alcohol but his crew did. Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report) coming in during Danny Mo and The Exciters’ soundcheck dressed in a sleeveless basketball guinea tee shirt. After guzzling a few free beers at the bar he was asked: ‘So you’re the greatest bassist on the planet?’ This legend was the size of a hobbit and he took a jump shot as he answered: ‘I’m an even better basketball player’ before getting onstage and playing a few 1-4-5’s with the band. Texas Rangers relief pitcher Kevin Brown walking in to the bar the night before his team was scheduled to play a short series at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. After a night of free beer guzzling, Brown was called in the next day to protect a Rangers lead in the bottom of the ninth and immediately gave up a homer and lost the game. People in Bunratty’s cheered and questioned whether all incoming team’s pitchers should be brought to the club first.

(by A.J.Wachtel)

Published On: April 25, 2017