CAMBRIDGE — On Thursday Josh Bhatti, who heads up the Bowery Presents: Boston, an outpost of the New York-based booking company, realized he had gotten about 12 hours of sleep in four days. That’s how brutal the lead-up had been to the opening of the Sinclair, a new music venue and restaurant in Harvard Square that the Bowery folks will oversee.
“After two years of seeing this space either vacant or as a construction site, to suddenly flood it with 300-plus people felt surreal to me,” Bhatti said.
Following more than a month of delays, which led to a total of 17 shows being moved to other venues, four postponed, and three canceled, the Sinclair opened its doors on Wednesday night at 52 Church St., not far from Club Passim. Bhatti said he’s thrilled to be so close to the fabled folk venue and considers it “more as a neighbor than a competitor.”
The Sinclair is the first permanent location for the Bowery Boston team, a place for them to set up shop and compete more directly with Live Nation and concert promoters around town. Bhatti said he plans to program about 200 shows the first year, and already the lineup cuts across genres, from rowdy country-rockers Deer Tick’s sold-out show on New Year’s Eve to British R&B singer Jessie Ware on Jan. 14.
How eagerly anticipated had the Sinclair’s opening been? Enough so that a few days prior, a Tumblr site titled The Sinclair Is Not Open went up with numerous posts poking fun at its late arrival. (My particular favorite: an image of a giant asteroid crashing into Earth with the message, “The Sinclair announces its opening date . . . December 21st, 2012!!!!”)
Now that the Sinclair is open, the site has suspended its posts with a final message: “It was fun while it lasted. Thanks to all who submitted, tweeted, shared, reblogged, or just laughed. Now go to the Sinclair. I hear it’s open.”
The Sinclair’s first show had been set for Oct. 30 with a performance by Page McConnell and the Meter Men, but construction delays kept pushing back the opening.
“Not to throw anyone under the bus, but we were promised [construction] dates that weren’t realistic,” Bhatti said.
Even then, it was a mad dash to the finish line. On Wednesday afternoon, I took a private tour of the Sinclair, which will hold 525 people in the concert venue and 104 diners in the restaurant helmed by Michael Schlow (of Radius and Via Matta fame).
To say it looked far from ready would have been a polite understatement, but everything had come together by the time Concrete Blonde headlined that evening. Even frontwoman Johnette Napolitano seemed impressed: “You guys nailed this place,” she said from the stage.
A few hours before showtime, here’s what I saw. In the music hall, lights were flashing across the room, presumably as a test run. Technicians were putting black tape on the stage. The main entrance was unmarked, still awaiting a giant sign that would eventually be put in place above the doors. The box office was closed, with computers covered in plastic. Workers were mopping the floors in the restaurant, while others changed light bulbs.
Cases of booze — Narragansett, Pabst, whiskey — were scattered across the floor in the bar area. (There are four bars in the venue, one in the restaurant.) The concrete floors were unfinished, apparently awaiting a stain that will come later.
It’s a handsome place, industrial chic with a subway motif but not too spiffy. As Stephen Martyak, who designed the space for his Boston-based company, StudioTYAK, put it: “It’s a rock club, so it can’t be too pristine,” he said.
The music side, especially, looks terrific. It has some of the best sightlines of any local venue, with three balconies of varying heights. Get here early to stake out a spot in the middle platform, which offers a prime spot to stare down the bands.
Nicole Kanner, who has been handling PR for the Sinclair, said the restaurant won’t be up and running at full speed at least until the end of the year. For now, the restaurant will be serving food on show nights.
By the end of the tour, about an hour later, the sign had been hoisted above the front entrance. The plastic was being lifted from the computers. Concrete Blonde’s van had pulled up in front for load-in. All hands were still on deck inside.
Bhatti had just arrived with a big smile on his face and a FedEx envelope holding the various forms that said the Sinclair could finally open. He looked relieved. He was even in good spirits about that Tumblr blog that had been needling the Sinclair’s growing pains.
“Not to downplay people’s frustration,” he said, “but our own frustration with this has been tenfold. It wasn’t pleasant, but we’re glad this is finally happening.”