First the Bad News...
Bad news for local music fans: Alice Despard is selling Galaxy Hut, the intimate Arlington pub that made a name for itself by booking little-known indie-rock bands (including the Strokes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor); offering free live music three nights a week; and serving terrific beer and unpretentious food. "I'm moving on to something else," Despard explains. "I don't know what that is yet. It's kind of amorphous. ... I just can't do anything [else] until I get this off my plate, like running a band and a family."
Despard opened the Hut 14 years ago with her ex-husband, Bill Stewart, who went on to open Bardo Rodeo and Dr. Dremo's Taphouse, among other ventures. But in recent years, Despard says, she's sunk an increasing amount of money into things like infrastructure. "I just don't have the drive or the will to do it anymore," she says.
Good news for local music fans: Despard is selling Galaxy Hut to longtime bartender Lary Hoffman, who's been at the Hut for eight years. "The offer's been on the table for a couple of years, but when Alice called me about it, it was still kind of a shock," Hoffman says. The man behind the local electronic group Aerialist, Hoffman says he's not planning a radical overhaul of the place but may make minor modifications, including tinkering with the menu and installing permanent art instead of the rotating shows that cover the walls.
One change, though, is sure to raise some eyebrows: Starting in September, Galaxy Hut will charge a cover during Saturday, Sunday and Monday night concerts. Currently, because there's no cover charge, bands that play at the Hut are paid with a percentage of the night's sales. The philosophy: The more people the musicians bring out, the more money the Hut makes in food and drink sales. Hoffman disagrees with the policy. "I'm buying a bar that doesn't always turn a profit," he says, so it doesn't make sense to "pay people out of the till."
Despard says she always resisted the idea of a cover charge because she wanted to create a community gathering place where people would feel free to hang out, whether they cared about the band or not. The lack of a cover also encouraged people (including me) to check out artists they'd never heard of. It will be interesting to see whether Galaxy Hut starts booking more bands that can draw crowds and takes fewer chances on smaller groups.
Hoffman will assume the new post on Sept. 1. His first order of business was to negotiate a new five-year lease on the space, which let Despard breathe a sigh of relief. "When I started, the only bars in town were Whitey's and Joseph's," she says. "We've watched it all get built up and we've managed to hold on. I can't believe it."
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