Looking back through the Cambridge restaurant and bar family tree (delve into some of it here), there are numerous connections between two dearly departed spots: B-Side Lounge, which closed at the end of 2008, and East Coast Grill, which changed ownership a few years ago and closed last month. Now, enter a new node on the tree: East Coast Grill founder Chris Schlesinger and B-Side Lounge alum Dave Cagle are teaming up to open The Automatic, a "fun neighborhood place," at 50 Hampshire St. in Cambridge, Cagle tells Eater. It's located on the outskirts of Kendall Square, "kind of bridging the gap between the neighborhood and Kendall," says Cagle. "There aren't enough neighborhood-feeling bars around there" aside from State Park, a favorite spot of his.
Cagle, whose cocktail-filled resume also includes Deep Ellum, Green Street, Trina's, and other well-loved local haunts, has been talking about opening up a place with Schlesinger for over a decade, although it started out as a joke, Cagle recalls. When Cagle moved to town in 1999 to work at B-Side Lounge, Schlesinger was always hanging around — he owned the building. And Cagle would hang around East Coast Grill, too. In fact, he met his wife there; she was his server at brunch over a decade ago.
The Automatic is meant to be "the kind of spot we want to hang out at on our days off," says Cagle, the type of restaurant people can visit two or three times a week, not just on special occasions. And there'll always be lunch — the plan is to serve food from 11 a.m. to midnight daily. It's too early to reveal much about the menu, but the food will "definitely have that Chris Schlesinger mark on it," says Cagle. Aside from owning East Coast Grill for 26 years, Schlesinger also opened Jake and Earl's Dixie BBQ and The Blue Room, both in Cambridge, as well as the Back Eddy in Westport. He's particularly passionate about grilling and has written several cookbooks on the topic. At The Automatic, he'll be acting in more of a consulting role than a back-of-house one, and the duo is currently in talks with chefs.
"I'm working on getting together an awesome staff, people I've worked with in different places over the years," says Cagle. "Definitely going to be an all-star front-of-house staff." As for himself, he'll find time to get behind the bar in addition to playing more of an owner/operator role. "I'm a bartender at heart," he says. And the room's a big rectangle, so he anticipates that he'll be able to manage the floor from behind the bar.
The Automatic will seat 74 inside and 40 on a patio out front. Design-wise, the space will be a complete change from the current occupant, a Portuguese restaurant called Atasca that has been at 50 Hampshire St. since 2000. Prior to that, Atasca spent a few years in a smaller space on Broadway that now houses Bondir. Eater has reached out to Atasca owner Joe Cerqueira to learn whether he plans to reopen elsewhere and when the current location might close; this story will be updated as new information becomes available. (See update below.) The Automatic is looking at a potential mid-May opening.
Renovations will include the addition of some booth seating, a long bar across the back wall, and some banquettes up front, as well as a community table in between the bar and the banquette area, "kind of like the one that was over at the B-Side," says Cagle.
The beverage program will feature classic cocktails — "but I'll definitely modernize it a little more over what I've been used to, to keep up with what's going on," says Cagle. "But I'm a strong believer that it should be anchored with a Manhattan and a Sazerac and an Old Fashioned, that sort of stuff. If it wasn't around before I was born, I'm not that excited about it." There won't be much draft beer — there's enough of that nearby already — but there will be some canned craft beers. Schlesinger's nephew, Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, who worked as opening general manager for Island Creek Oyster Bar, will be putting together a wine list.
The music will follow in the tradition of B-Side and Green Street: "I'll have turntables," says Cagle. "I collect records, so I'll be playing LPs all the time. Lots of old country, old proto-punk, stuff like that." There won't be live music.
The name relates to music as well, at least tangentially. "We were listening to an old New York punk band called the Plasmatics at Green Street a couple months ago," says Cagle. I always liked their name, but it wasn't right for a restaurant. I couldn't get the name out of my head, and it eventually turned into The Automatic."
The team goes before the Cambridge licensing commission on February 23 to seek a permit for food and full liquor.
Keep an eye on Instagram for updates as The Automatic gets closer to its debut.
Update: Joe Cerqueira tells Eater that he decided to close Atasca to concentrate on Rocco's, an Italian restaurant in Wilmington that has been open since 1940 that he took over during the summer. While he might open a new restaurant eventually, for now he's looking forward to traveling, relaxing, and focusing on Rocco's. A closing date for Atasca isn't finalized yet, but it might happen around May.