Metro

Co-owner of Middle East nightclub stepping down amid misconduct claims

Patrons lined up outside the Middle East in Cambridge in 2008.
David Kamerman/Globe Staff/File
Patrons lined up outside the Middle East in Cambridge in 2008.

Facing persistent sexual misconduct allegations that he insists are false, a co-owner of the storied Middle East nightclub has resigned as manager of the club.

Joseph Sater, 66, who owns the music venue with his brother, has faced secondhand claims of sexual misconduct since the #MeToo movement began in October. The assertions, which ricocheted online, led to boycotts by bands, DJs, and even patrons of the Middle East, who avoided the music venue to stand in solidarity with purported victims.

“Admittedly, it’s been challenging to find an appropriate way to respond to unsubstantiated third-party claims on social media,” the Middle East’s owners said in a statement. “We can say, unequivocally, that the allegations being spread online are absolutely not true and that just being publicly accused is absolutely devastating.”

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The Middle East, founded in 1974 by Sater and his brother, Nabil, has been a mainstay of the indie rock scene in Greater Boston for decades. In their statement, the owners expressed frustration with the way their venue is now being characterized.

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“Understand that we care deeply about our employees; they are like family to us. Over the past 4-plus decades, we have worked hard to create a warm, respectful, safe — and, as a music venue — fun work environment,” the statement said. “We always strive to do better and we sincerely apologize if any current or former employees have not had a positive experience or have felt unsafe.”

The crisis struck last fall, when a DJ posted claims online alleging that one of the owners of the club had assaulted several women. The details were scant and the women, unnamed, but the blowback was immediate.

Performers immediately canceled their shows and issued statements of protest.

“It’s our number one priority to ensure the safety and comfort of anyone attending our shows,” wrote the band Horse Jumper Of Love.

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“While we have no real insight or knowledge about these allegations,” wrote the organizers of “Grassfed Disco” parties, “we cannot stand by and advertise a ‘safe space’ without being fully confident in that statement.”

Still, no victims came forward publicly, and Cambridge Police did not receive any complaints about the Middle East, Jeremy Warnick, a spokesman, said Wednesday.

The issue was recently revived when a Middle East employee who had stood by the club throughout the crisis posted a lengthy Facebook statement about why he’d given up hope and quit. Alex Pickert wrote that he had advocated internally for changes, including sexual harassment prevention training that was conducted by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center last year. He also said he and others had pushed “for the accused owner to be removed from the premises.”

But after taking a leave of absence from the club in the wake of the online publicity, Sater returned after four months, Pickert wrote, dashing his hopes that his “toxic work environment” could be healed.

Through a spokesman, Sater declined to elaborate on the leave he took. “I stepped away from day-to-day operations for a couple of months because I believed it was in the best interest of the business at that time,” he said.

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Sater also said he was not forced out of the job due to the boycott.

“I’m 66 years old and have spent the past 40+ years managing the Middle East,” Sater said. “While I had been planning on moving on at some point — I decided to retire earlier than expected so I wouldn’t be a distraction to the business and to the staff I care so deeply about.”

Some expressed skepticism about the owners’ statement and said they will continue to boycott the venue as long as Sater remains a co-owner.

“We will not be playing the Middle East as long as Joseph owns a share and makes money from it,” the Boston band Courters said on Wednesday. “Most bands we know are on the same page. There will still be an organized boycott. The Boston Rock scene will not stand for this.”

Dugan Arnett of the Globe Staff contributed. Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.