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ManRay nightclub’s return preserves Central Square’s alternative roots

For a number of underground subcultures in Greater Boston in the 1980s and ’90s, the now-shuttered Central Square nightclub ManRay was as iconic a place as Filene’s Basement was for shoppers or Fenway Park is for local sports fans. In an early incarnation, ManRay was mainly a gay club. Later, it hosted events for Goths, leather fetishists, and devotees of New Wave synth music, and it provided a venue for insurgent bands like Nirvana. While some neighbors viewed the club with suspicion, ManRay’s very existence showed people with few other local footholds that Greater Boston could make room for all sorts.

But as rents and land values soared, the club lost its lease in 2005, and the site was redeveloped as housing. ManRay owner Donald Holland always vowed to reopen, but to little result — until now. Last week, Cambridge’s licensing panel approved the transfer of ManRay’s license to a former Blockbuster Video location on Massachusetts Avenue. The vibe will no doubt be different: The new space is smaller, and will also include a restaurant. But ManRay’s revival shows that, even as once-dodgy Central Square keeps moving ever more upscale, it can also remain true to its alternative roots.