People may have gotten used to walking past Anthony’s on Highland Avenue in Somerville and thinking of it as an old event hall, but the place has gotten a bit of a facelift in the last year. J.J. Gonson, who runs the catering business Cuisine en Locale, took over the venue last year, and it’s now becoming a place to spend your evenings, from taco night to trivia nights to seeing up and coming indie bands performing.
“What I want to have is talented, rising musicians,” says Gonson. A music industry vet, she says she has “a couple of promoters who I work with who I trust to curate those shows, and they have brought in musicians who I love so much.”
Not only has Kim Gordon played there in the past, but Amanda Palmer recently decided to play two shows there. The first, which took place last Thursday, was a determinedly casual affair, as the singer came out in a kimono before her show to chat with fans, talk up the opening band and enjoy some of Cuisine en Locale’s food.
The food, of course, is the main reason Gonson was originally interested in the space. “Cuisine en Locale started as a personal chefing service, and that meant I went to people’s homes, and I cooked food for them” explains Gonson. They’re still preparing food for local families, as part of their “Once a Week” program. “Every week, we deliver cooked food to families all over the Boston area on bicycle,” she says.
That food sticks to locavore traditions. Gonson grew up in the Cambridge area, and has fond memories of shopping from local farmers, at a time when kiwis seemed like an exotic food that came from too far away to eat regularly. Cuisine now uses all locally farmed food for their fare.
Asked why she decided to do two shows at the venue, Palmer says, “The original idea was to do a month of shows, but we could only ferret out two dates that worked for everybody. I absolutely love doing residences. It’s like building a little family, and a running set of jokes.”
Palmer also praised Cuisine en Locale for helping to give new artists a home. “I used to live three doors down from Cuisine en Locale on Highland Ave, back in 1999, and I would have killed, positively killed, to have something like that in my neighborhood.”
With hopping Union Square only a few blocks away, it’s a prime time for venues like this one to start building an audience. “Boston needs it badly. It's so hard to create and make things stick here because of the academic turnover and the often jaded attitude, but there's hope springing eternal, like a little crocus waiting under a twelve foot-high snow drift, or a red line train coming within the hour. It's happening, you can feel it, you just have to wait,” says Palmer.
Save some, toss some
Getting the former Anthony's ready took some serious work. Though Gonson says, "There was never any Anthony's that we know of," they did have to update the interior for its new purpose. "We saved anything that was worth saving, and you would not believe how much we took out. We hauled dumpsters, and dumpsters. We did a lot of salvaging," says Gonson. And because the venue has been around since the early 20th century, they found some odd items too. There was an old hairdresser's chair in the basement, and Gonson says they found a Coke can from the '60s hidden in a wall.