By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Do me a favor: Close your eyes (OK, not really, 'cause you have to keep reading, but imagine that you are closing your eyes). Good. Now, think of a great fucking song, one of those tunes that warms your belly and makes your cheeks go a little flush, perhaps a montage track from an '80s movie about a carwash or a ski race. (You wanna know what mine is? Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight.") Next, think of some nice, neato characters. Whatever your idea of neato is, imagine guys and gals dressed as such -- indie rock glasses and Chuck Taylors? Leather and piercings? Plaid and gingham? It's your call. Now, with your characters sufficiently sketched, cue up the intro to the song in your head and place your gang at a dive bar with an outdoor patio. They've got cold beers in their hands and it's a sunny Sunday afternoon. Your song begins to gain momentum and heft, its verse picking up speed, its chorus on the horizon. Nice people are playing Ping-Pong at a table nearby, and other nice people have set up crockpots filled with chili. The camera weaves in and out of the scene, the sun glinting off the lens every now and then, '80s style. Your characters give each other high-fives and are handed fresh beers by a spectacled 6-foot, 6-inch hombre who's not only manning a backyard bar, but also barbecuing oysters at the same time and passing them out for free.
"Dude, this place is awesome," says one of your characters.
"Bro, it totally is," says another. More high-fives.
A decision is made to go inside to check out the band playing on the small, small stage. Your characters make their way inside, smiling at cuties to their left and right, the camera catching every wink and glare (in case you haven't figured it out, this is one long Scorsese shot here). Your song is still building and building. The camera sweeps through the crowded house, steam rising from the stage as the frontman dives off the bass cabinet yelling -- "Take me home tonight/ I don't wanna let you go till I see the light!"
Assuming that little experiment worked, you now have an idea of how my friends and I felt during some special times we've had at Thee Parkside, a little bar with a lot of heart that, as of Jan. 1, 2005, is going through some changes.
First off, Parkside's Sean O'Conner, co-owner, manager, and the guy giving out the oysters, is no longer running things. O'Conner has handed the keys to his longtime semi-silent partner, Michael Driscoll, and walked away. O'Conner's chief booker and right-hand man, John O'Neil, has also departed, along with two more bartenders. To some, i.e., casual patrons and music fans, this means very little. According to the new management, shows will still be held at the club, despite what you may have heard. Others, i.e., those of us who know and love O'Conner and fear change as if it were anthrax, say things like this: "If Sean and John aren't down with that place anymore, neither am I."
It's a sticky situation filled with tons of innuendo. My hope is to clear a few things up right now.
O'Conner and Driscoll have been friends since the early '90s, having met when the two were bartenders at Pier 23 on the Embarcadero. They had a dream of opening their own bar/restaurant together, and in mid-2001 bought an expired Italian joint, turned it into Thee Parkside, and commenced struggling through those first few years.
"We were throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck," remembers O'Conner. "I did salsa on Sundays, which was a joke."
In the spring of 2002, O'Conner met O'Neil, a music writer from Boston who was friends with Chris Owen, a Parkside bartender. O'Neil had a thing for garage rock, and coaxed Owen to start booking such shows at the space; soon he, too, got a job behind the bar.
"I think the thing is, with places that are going through a survival mode," says O'Conner, "you've gotta create an identity, you've gotta figure out what you're gonna do and just do it. Identify yourself and say: 'We're gonna make this happen or die trying.'"
And so they made it happen. With the introduction of the three-day, 28-band Budget Rock Showcase on Oct. 4-6, 2002 -- in which Boston garage legends the Lyres headlined, and then-unknowns like Comets on Fire first gained a wide audience -- Thee Parkside officially became ground zero for this city's garage rock scene. When its stage wasn't hosting bands like the Teenage Harlots or the Bobbyteens, booker/bartenders Terrence Ryan and Dana-Maria Dougherty were signing up indie rockers and country acts, respectively.
In addition, O'Conner and his cohorts concocted a host of other popular events, such as hot-rod showcases, chili cook-offs, and meat raffles. On Sunday afternoons, any dumb schmuck could walk in off the street, see some free live music, slurp a few barbecued oysters, and suck down a cold one. To many of us, Thee Parkside was more than a music venue or a watering hole, it was a second home.