For this week’s nightcap we headed to Cambridge for a chat with Dave Cagle, one of the co-owners at The Automatic. Dave and his partner Chris Schlesinger have a lot of history in Cambridge (B-Side and East Coast Grill respectively), and are turning out outrageous snacks at their vinyl-only music bar. Join us for a beer and a chat as we dig in with Dave.
NightOwl: Tell us about The Automatic and your bar inspirations.
Dave: The Automatic is an updated take on the neighborhood bar. It was very important to me that we had a laid-back, casual atmosphere. There are so many great spots in the area but there are never enough “everyday hang-outs.” Why shouldn’t you be able to get a well made cocktail or bottle of Grower Champagne in a place that’s lighthearted and fun? We have turntables and play an eclectic mix of old 50’s and 60’s rock, 70’s punk, gangster rap, etc. Music is a big part of the feel of the place. The design was inspired by old surfboards, skate parks, and Cadillacs. It feels like it should be a bar in LA in the ‘60s.
NightOwl: What’s behind only playing vintage vinyl?
Dave: My stepfather had a ton of records when I was a kid. He was in the military for 20 years and had traveled all over the world. He picked up records all along the way. I’d spend hours listening to those records. When I got into punk rock and hip-hop I realized most of the kids that were listening to this stuff also collected records. It all made sense.
NightOwl: Do people bring in their own records to play? Is there anything you won’t put the needle to?
Dave: People do bring their own records in. They’re welcome to play them as long as the music fits with the vibe. I’ve also had a few people donate their records to the bar. No Fleetwood Mac!
NightOwl: If you could only ever listen to one album again, what would you choose?
Dave: The Queen is Dead by the Smiths.
NightOwl: You must see a lot behind the bar. Tell us a story. Crazy, funny, or both. You choose.
Dave: Over 15 years ago this group came into the bar where I was working and sat down at a booth. After a couple of minutes it was clear they had had too much to drink so we declined to serve them alcohol. They decided to stay and eat anyway which is usually the best case scenario. Half an hour after they arrived I looked over and one of the ladies was vomiting into her water glass, which was overflowing all over the table. We quickly got them out and then it was time to clean up the mess. We pulled the table out so we could get to the mess and I knelt on the bench to get to the wall. I immediately noticed that the bench was wet and figured a glass of water had gotten spilled in the commotion. I started wiping it up and realized it wasn’t water. She had been sitting there “wetting herself” while she was vomiting into a water glass. I won’t ever forget that one.
NightOwl: What’s your favorite place to just sit back and have a drink outside of work?
Dave: Brendan Behan in Jamaica Plain.
NightOwl: What’s the hardest thing about owning a bar? The coolest?
Dave: The hardest part these days is the late nights. It’s not unusual for us to finish closing the restaurant at 3am. The coolest part is the people. I have dear friends that I’ve met as guests who are scientists, doctors, pharma execs, musicians, dog walkers, cops, strippers, teachers, mechanics, etc. Everyone loves to eat and drink so I meet all walks of life.
NightOwl: Did you ever think you’d wind up in the hospitality business? How did you get here?
Dave: I started working in restaurants before I was a teenager. My mother is an incredibly hard worker and thought that making sure her kids had a strong work ethic was the most important tool to make it through life. We were very poor when I was a kid so I was happy to make some money so I could buy skateboards, clothes, and Taco Bell. I hated restaurants though. I tried ten other things and always ended up back in restaurants. After a certain point I realized that it was really the only thing I knew and decided to take it seriously. As soon I made the decision my hate for the restaurant business turned into love. I can’t imagine doing or wanting to do anything else.
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