When the Magee brothers and a family friend bought the establishment that they would turn into Atwood's Tavern, they weren't even looking to acquire a business. They were in the market for a building, and came across the east Cambridge location that housed the Overdraught Pub. The bar, and the building that housed it, were both for sale, and it was a package deal.
The new owners tapped local history for rechristening purposes; "Atwood's Corner" was an old name for Inman Square. Ten years later, the restaurant, bar, and hopping little music venue that Patrick and Ryan Magee have developed (brother John and the family friend left for other pursuits after five years) is about to mark its first decade with a week of shows, beginning Monday, that will feature some of the local roots acts that have found a home there. Given the spate of music club closings that have occurred of late, it's nice to be celebrating a milestone instead of mourning a loss.
Music has been an important part of Atwood's since its beginning, by its owners' design. In a recent phone conversation, Patrick Magee remarked upon the importance that music has always had in his life; "music is my church," he says simply. His parents exposed him and his brothers to music early in their lives; a thorough exposure to the Boston-area roots and blues scene came through working for several years at Davis Square live music venue the Burren.
It didn't take long for Atwood's to establish itself as a place where you could reliably catch much of what the local roots-music scene had to offer: Jimmy Ryan, Eric Royer, Vapours of Morphine, Andrea Gillis, Dennis Brennan, Christian McNeill, Sean Staples, Lyle Brewer, and many others have regularly performed there.
Tim Gearan (who Ryan and Patrick had typically spent their Monday nights off from their Burren jobs catching at another club) has been an almost weekly presence since the beginning. Guitar player extraordinaire Duke Levine has played there with his band for almost as long. "I think in the beginning they liked having residencies, so they didn't have tons of people playing there; they had people they liked, and appreciated, and they enjoyed having around a lot," Levine observes.
A little less than three years ago, the Magees made another leap and started to bring in national touring acts. "As things went on, there was a desire on the part of our patrons and on our part to try to reach out and get some more touring acts in," Patrick Magee relates. To do so, they tapped Randi Millman to take over the booking; she brought the expertise and relationships she had developed during 15 years spent at music club T.T. the Bear's.
At that point, Millman was working at Johnny D's but had started to ponder the idea of booking a smaller room. "I was really intrigued; I'd never had that before," she says, reached by phone. "If I get 85 people, it's a sell-out. I should be able to do that, no problem. Now, it doesn't work every night, but it was a different kind of challenge for me."
Under Millman's tutelage, Atwood's has become a place where you can catch established acts like the Bottle Rockets, John Doe, and the Waco Brothers, and have a chance to see up-and-comers just starting to make a name for themselves (Andrew Combs, Daniel Romano, Whitney Rose, and the Cactus Blossoms are a few who have played there in just the last year).
It's already an impressive track record, and the result of a team effort, Millman says. "I feel like I'm expanding on what Patrick and Ryan created because, honestly, I walked into a really good situation. People think very highly of that room locally, and I pretty much figured, because of the way they treat the artists, that anybody who came in nationally was going to leave and love it, and that's exactly what has happened."
Levine echoes that sentiment. When asked what he finds most distinctive about the venue, he responds that "like any place or business, it's the people; those guys make it really comfortable for people to come in and play and they really support original music and live music. They've obviously gone out of their way to make music a big part of the place, and you feel it."
Ten years in, "we like what we're doing, and we want to just keep doing it," says Magee. "We think there's always going to be a place for people to have good food, good drinks, and good music in a small, cozy neighborhood environment. If we're doing the same thing in 10 years that we're doing now, we're going to be happy."
10th Anniversary Shows
At Atwood's Tavern, Cambridge, Monday through Sunday; 617-864-2792; www.atwoodstavern.com
Stuart Munro can be reached at email@example.com.