Not Down, Just Underground

Baby, if you ever wonder whatever happened to Ray — stop by the Underground

I was greeted by people who considered me "old school" rather than merely old. I swapped stories with Mark O'Neal, for instance, who'd worked for years with Carbone at Ray's and had been a regular fixture on the downtown scene long before its "revitalization." He told me he'd "had the misfortune of being the first guy who ever lifted a rope on Clematis Street." I remembered him as a member of the antiracist gang Color Blind, which he now referred to as "a gentlemen's club." Times had changed, but the stories remained the same, especially as the Underground seemed to be the de facto clubhouse for Clematis veterans.

It's not every day that you hear folks wax nostalgic about the time one of them (Thompson) got shot in the ass while working the door at Wildside, a strip club that's now Spearmint Rhino.

"I didn't even know I was shot until I saw the blood," the bouncer-turned-bar owner laughed. O'Neal and Carbone laughed with him. Good times.

Tony Gleeson

Proving that he was still a tough guy (though his beefy body and bulging biceps were enough evidence for me), Thompson whipped out his laptop so we could watch him battle a blubbery Russian in a recent mixed martial arts match in Estonia, where the 31-year-old club owner lives half the year, producing such competitions.

While Thompson's friends cheered him on, a couple at the end of the bar engaged in a match of their own — a slithery, slobbery make-out session — as Joey George and his band played "Little Red Rooster." People were having fun, including the conservatively coifed Josh, a 36-year-old securities trader who lived in the neighborhood and found the place a few weeks earlier "more by happenstance than anything else."

"So you're a recidivist?" I said, shooting him a flirty smile that earned me a free beer.

He might be a newcomer, but with goals like "I always wanted to date a girl with purple hair" and judging by his most recent musical purchase, the latest Dinosaur Jr. album, it was clear that the New England transplant fit in. Later, he'd argue politics with a City Cellar chef articulate enough to condemn some politicians as "pernicious and vile," but for now, Josh was rooting for the Patriots as they played out their drama on the small, boxy TV behind the bar.

A few seats away were Becky and Limo Steve (so called for his line of work). Becky, an excitable 47-year-old who owns Sleepyhead Waterbeds, claimed to be a blues club aficionado. Having visited such clubs "from Maine to San Francisco," she appreciated "the seedier side." Assessing the Underground as "just like Ray's but with nicer bathrooms" (in fact, the alternating blue and red flashing lights shining through the translucent doors of the loo were my favorite decorating feature), she was optimistic about the latest manifestation of Ray.

"Even if he doesn't have his own club, he has enough of a following that he'll be a plus to any club he goes to," Becky opined. "I've run into a lot of young musicians who've said the only place they could play was Ray's."

Without a committed idealist like Carbone, she wanted to know, "Who's gonna nurture the young music?"

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