For 25 Years, the Midway Has Shaped the Sound of Jamaica Plain

When Dave and Jay Balerna bought the Midway Cafe 25 years ago, they changed the sound of JP.

No one calls it the . Sure, there are still signs with both words outside and up above the inside stage. But to pretty much everyone, it’s just the Midway. It was probably that way even back in the 1940s, when the Boston Gas Company used to be across the street, and workers from the 8 a.m., 4 p.m. and midnight shifts kept the bar packed. But when Boston Gas moved out in 1982, business shriveled. Five years later, Dave and Jay Balerna took over the Midway’s liquor license from their aunt and uncle, who owned the whole block, and the brothers became the then-youngest bar owners in the city.

Soon after, they introduced live music to the place. It's never been the same.

I visited the Midway one afternoon last week to speak with Dave Balerna, 47 (Jay is 48). The place was dark, and the few chairs were still upside down at the bar. Christmas-like lights are strung by the sides and at the back of the carpeted stage, and a couple of silver disco balls hang above it, with a large American flag, stage right. Lots of band photos line the walls, and a battery of electric guitars live high up on them. We talked about the club over a couple of beers.


Was bringing live music in part of the plan from the

No, there was no plan. We were sitting in here, playing cribbage, when a local guy came in: John Simone from the band the Fabulous Roys. He asked if we would consider putting his band in here. So they played rock ’n’ roll here, and then there was a natural progression of live bands. Somebody would come in and see the Roys and think, maybe our band can play here. The word got out that we were a really cool club with great sound. And it’s a place that’s safe, a place where you can bring your girl and she won’t get hit on.


What’s the split of responsibilities between you and Jay?

We’re co-owners. Jay is the sane one. I did all the booking of bands and the community outreach, and Jay counted the beans. But I don’t really do the booking now.


Why not?

I think I peaked out back when I booked 90 bands in one month. So Shamus Moynihan, who produces the JP Music Festival, and Lenny Lashley, who sings in Darkbuster, are booking now. I’m OK with not doing it because I’m an apple cart kind of guy, and these two guys are doing a great job of it. Shamus is the up-and-comer who’s doing fantastic things for us and for the music fest; Lenny is an incredibly gifted musician with unbelievable inroads to bands that we would never have had the opportunity to work with.


Have you found that a lot of JP bands play here?

That happens without effort. If you walk through the door looking for a gig, you’re gonna get it. Someone will come here and say, “I live in JP, I’ve got this band, and we wanna play.” You’ll get booked, within a month, on a Tuesday night.


A lot of the people who come by to hear music have said that there’s a real sense of community here.

The same 1,000 to 2,000 people keep flowing through on a six-week to 10-week rotation, or 10-week to 15-week rotation. We’ve been in business so long, you keep seeing those people. And it’s young and old. You can have a guy in a Grateful Dead t-shirt standing next to a guy in a suit standing next to two girls holding hands standing next to two guys arm in arm standing next to a person in a wheelchair who’s next to a punk rocker with a Mohawk.


So what’s your most popular beer?

Pabst Blue Ribbon. No, wait, maybe it’s Narragansett. I guess it’s neck and neck, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Narragansett.


, 3496 Washington St. 617-524-9038. Check the JP Patch calendar to see who's playing on a given night.

Constance r June 02, 2012 at 04:09 PM
LOVE LOVE LOVE THE MIDWAY! Dave and Jay have the best venue for music in Boston !
John Shaw June 02, 2012 at 07:13 PM
not only is ferris sitting in with th merry runarounds, i am with my beautiful resonator mandolin. the levon helm tribute was an amazing night


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