People who knew it in its later incarnations are sometimes surprised to learn that the Paradise, on Massachusetts Avenue near MIT, was once a casual, informal watering hole of a gay bar. In the early 80s there was singalong piano once or twice a week. There was an elderly waitress in a uniform to take drink orders; the story I heard was that she'd been working there since before it became a gay bar and stayed on.
During the years I lived in Cambridge I would occasionally drop by at the Paradise and run into people I knew from the Cambridge side of the river. This was always nice, but I think I felt alone and odd more often then I felt social and connected and I would rarely stay long. Still, there was that occasional good time for me.
Then, in my last year living in Cambridge, in 1987 or so, my roommate Jim and I made a conscious decision that we would set Thursday night as our night to go to the Paradise, from about 8 to 10 pm, in the hopes of turning the place into a regular hangout for the folks we knew. We started to tell our friends of these plans, but most of the folks we knew were the sort who would claim in a dudgeon of defensiveness that they "never go to the bars!" (they would claim this most vociferously if you happened to encounter them in one) so our idea wasn't greeted with immediate enthusiasm.
And yet the people who "never go to the bars" would show up, stealthily, apologetically, saying, "Well, I thought I'd come and say hello." I was the social one, the host, who would try to make sure people knew each other. Jim was the cute one, the way cute one, the bait as it were. We arrived early enough to commandeer a particular table in the front of the bar. And slowly, gradually, people started putting this on their list of things to do on an otherwise free Thursday night.
I knew we had crossed a line the night that our friend Kathy showed up. She had a folder of some things to give me, things related to the Freedom Trail band (they may have been program notes); I was President of the band at the time. After giving me the folder she started to head out the door and I stopped her and said, "What, you just came here to give this to me?" and she said, "Yes, I knew I would find you here." I realized that what I had done was establish office hours.
It was only a few months into this experiment that I moved away from the area, and Jim didn't stay too long after I left. But sometimes I think we could have really gotten something going there.