Thursday, May 26, 2011

Toast Lounge

Toast Lounge

Location: 70 Union Square, Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

Opened: 2003 if not earlier

Closed: By May 2008, the space had been taken over by Precinct, which catered to "Somerville's metrosexual, sports-loving crowd."

So when did this joint open? I really can't say for sure. But I do find a reference to the Toast Lounge launching a weekly Thursday night Ladies Night in October 2003. It quickly became very popular, though the creation of Ladies Night seemed more accidental than intentional. ("Ladies' Night became an immediate hit, even as the club's attempt to attract gay men to similar nights failed to take off.") Needless to say, it became quite clear that Ladies Night was "tapping into a largely neglected market." As a result, the Toast was soon crowned as "one of only two reliable gathering places for Boston Lesbians." (The other venue referred to here was Club Hollywood in Boston's Chinatown, which hosted a Saturday lesbian night until January 2005.)

After October 2003, the next earliest reference I can find to the Toast Lounge is a "campaign meeting" held at the Toast Lounge on December 3, 2003 for House of Representatives candidate Dane Baird, Jr. (a Republican!). Total reported cost: $24.50. I assume we weren't picking up the bar tab.

Then in January 2004, Armenian folk singer Gor Mkhitarian appeared at the Toast Lounge.

In fact, 2004 was chocked full of various singer/songwriters and poets--and at least one band. Here's a sampling:

June 13, 2004: Poets Linda Haviland Conte and Mary Buchinger-Bodwell
July 2, 2004: Poets Deborah M. Priestly and Doug Holder
September, 10, 2004: Opening for photographers Nicole Tammaro and Christopher Banda
September 22, 2004: Poet Robert K. Johnson
October 1, 2004: The "legendary garage band," the Lyres
December 17, 2004: Poets Gary Duehr and Jaacqueline Pope

Amidst all this high culture, was this a lesbian bar yet? Apparently just on Thursdays.

All I know is that by the spring of 2005, Dyke Night has moved in. This seemed to have occurred shortly after Toast owner Ken Kelly developed some sort of conflict with Thursday Ladies Night promoter Wendy Kelly (no relation), who was ultimately let go:

Improper Bostonian's Boston's Best Lesbian Night Oct 2005: Dyke Night Retro at Toast!
"Local lesbians are rejoicing over the return of Kristen Porter’s Dyke Night, after a year’s hiatus. Sisters of Sappho flocked to her events at the Midway Café for almost six years before the weekly bacchanal came to a sad end in April 2004. Porter vowed to be back, and earlier this spring returned to the Toast Lounge. There’s a slightly retro feel to the proceedings, with DJ Susan Esthera spinning 70s, 80s and 90s dance hits. Admission is a paltry $5.”

One year later, Dyke Night was practically an institution at the Toast:

Boston’s Best 2006: Improper Bostonian Lesbian Night:
Dyke Night Goes RETRO at Toast Lounge

Dyke Night goes retro was created to cater to a close-knit, activist community of sisters of Sappho who enjoy and ultra relaxed atmosphere. Previously held at JPs Midway Café, the evening now takes place at Toast Lounge, where there’s a lightly retro feel as DJ Susan Esthera spins 70s, 80s, and 90s dance hits. Social events like the Gay Film Festival’s after party, speed-dating nights and sand up comedy by pants-wettingly funny Sandra Valls help to support a network of lesbian activist groups and causes. It should come as no surprise that Dyke Night founder Kristen Porter feels strongly about linking entertainment with philanthropy; as the executive director of Pathways to Wellness, a nonprofit holistic wellness center in Back Bay, she donates more than 25 percent of profits from events. In other words, there’s more to Dyke Night than girl meets girl.


Thanks again for your votes!
"The longest running lesbian night in Boston, " Dyke Night" rules this category once again. It's made Friday night at Toast the centerpiece around which the city's lesbians revolve."

And so it went through 2007, when it was hoped--somewhat unrealistically as it turns out--that Dyke Night at Toast Lounge was "destined to reign forever."

Boston's Best 2007: Improper Bostonian
...In 1998 Kristen Porter began Dyke Night Productions because few events in Boston catered to lesbians, and because she wanted to raise money for local causes. Nine years and heaps of praise later, Dyke Night-now held every Friday in Somerville at Toast Lounge-is still running. It earns bonus points for having that mysterious Fuzzy Fairy drink and for sending 25% of proceeds to nonprofits in the GLBT community. Is Dyke Night destined to reign forever. We hope so.

2007 Boston Phoenix: "BEST DIY Promoter"
She's definitely good at her job, because the city is flooded with publicity from KRISTEN PORTER, a local activist, acupuncturist, and founder of DYKE NIGHT AT TOAST LOUNGE. Starting in 1998, Friday nights at Toast have been a cornerstone for the local lesbian community, mostly thanks to Kristen and her dream to combine entertainment with philanthropic action. Dyke Night has been lauded by the queer community and by Boston publications again and again. And again and again. And, now, thanks to you readers, again.

2007 Boston Phoenix: "BEST GAY BAR"
Kristen Porter (See Best DYI Promoter) is really good at her job; DYKE NIGHT AT TOAST LOUNGE is your favorite place for girl-on-girl action. An unassuming bar that's underground in both the literal and abstract sense, Toast squats somewhat lurkingly in Union Square. Inside on a Friday night, however, is a totally different story; the hottest female DJs in New England spin a soundtrack to Sapphic paradise, as the local lesbian and queer community gather to mingle and tingle.

We eventually see descriptions like this:

Located in Union Square, Somerville, Toast Lounge features events seven days a week with some of Boston's best LIVE MUSIC. Friday nights feature Kristen Porter's DYKE NIGHT, voted Boston's best Lesbian night by the Phoenix and the Improper Bostonian. Situated in the former jail cells of the Somerville Police station, Toast is Somerville's premier club open seven days a week and late (until 2AM) on weekend.

We know that Dyke Night's professed commitment to social causes was genuine from news items like this:

On Sunday April 30, 2006 Toast Lounge in Somerville and DykeNight Productions will host the Same Love, Same Rights Benefit After Party. Ticket proceeds will benefit two local non-profit organizations recognized in the GLBT community: the Freedom To Marry Coalition (FTMC) and Pathways to Wellness. Produced in conjunction with Rainbow Wedding Network's (RWN) Third Annual Same Love, Same Rights GLBT Wedding and Family Expo this event will feature live music, DJ performances throughout the day, and a newly released short film documentary on the struggle for marriage equality in Massachusetts.

And again, on November 11, 2007, there was a benefit for the Malayka House Orphanage in Uganda.

Generally during this time period, we see a lot of poets and singers who are continuing to appear at the Toast Lounge as well.

Singer Audrey Ryan's performance on November 28, 2007 is preserved on Youtube, so you can catch some of the Toast Lounge's non-Dyke Night ambience here.

And then Dyke Night at the Toast came to a close with the demise of the Toast Lounge:

2008 Boston Phoenix: "BEST Lesbian Night"
Somerville’s Union Square is about to become a little less lesbo-licious. Sadly, DYKE NIGHT AT TOAST, our readers’ gathering of choice, is in its final throes. The party will relocate come May, when Toast switches over to a permanent resto-lounge. But during its heyday, Friday nights belonged to the ladies, as Toast hosted the sultriest Sapphic dance party in town. Founder Kristen Porter promises to take her posse elsewhere; in the meantime, watch for her dance parties to spring up at locations around town.

So while the Toast was alive, how did the patrons feel about the place? Here's a few voices:

6/1/2006: Friday nights at Toast are a blast.  Dykenight takes over and the bartenders are amazing...cute, friendly...all the good stuff. The crowd can be young but the music is made for dancing.  By midnight, it's hard to move around and get there before 9:30 if you don't want to wait in line.

11/14/2006: For queer girls, Toast is fabulous on Friday nights.  At first I thought Somerville + Lesbians = Mullet Heaven.  I expected to be transported back to my old haunts in St. Louis or, better yet, rural Texas.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it's nice to have a place for lesbians and like-minded folk to party in style!  Hooray for Union Square!
The venue has an interesting layout, somewhat labyrinthine, but well suited to groups who don't want to shout to be heard as well as a good sized dance floor.  I've never had a bad experience with the bar tenders, and they seem to have a decent, but not huge, selection of draught beers including Stella.  Big star for that one.
The couches are comfy, and not too far removed from the dance scene, but the bathrooms are tiny!  C'mon. Two stalls for two hundred of inebriated dykes?

12/2/2006:  love this place. I used to head there every friday night with my girls and loved every minute of it.
The bartenders, Ange and Pamela (there's more, but those are the two I can vouch for) are fantastic.  Friendly, smart, and cute.
A great time on lesbian night at the very least. =)

8/27/2007: Yo, this place was HOPPING in circa 2004-2005.  It used to be packed to the brim with young hip dykes'n'queers dancing drunk to pop music- what fun!! Just went back for the first time in a couple years this Friday night, kinda early because we wanted a table (10:30?) and over 40 night was ending.  (Awkward.)  Anyway, we figured it would pick up over the next while, but it really didn't and we left at midnight.
Drinks were strong ($5 each for mixed drinks).  It seemed less pretentious than other times I've been there, but maybe that's because it was also less cool and less fun.  Oh, well.

1/15/2008: similarly to how i feel about club cafe, i'm not crazy about toast, but i have to give it props for being a dependable lezzie place to hang out.
i actually used to love going here a few years ago when it was on thursday nights (which later moved to tribe at felt- is that still going on?).  now it is dyke night on friday.  sad to say, there aren't many options for queer women to hang out and the nights we do have are always coming and going.  so for that, toast is reliable.  there are usually a good number of women dancing, there is also a loungey area to sit and drink, an outside area for smoking, lots of familiar faces.

An interior photograph of the old Toast Lounge may be found here.

Photo: Exterior of the Toast Lounge

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