5 Coolest Basement Locales Near Harvard Square, Cambridge

Photo of Alyssa Erspamer
9 February 2017

If you’ve already experienced all there is to explore on the surface of Harvard Square, it is time to move underground, and check out the world of basement locales. These spaces tend to be cozy and inviting, hosting independent locales that serve more specialized crowds. Take the trip down the stairs and check out these idiosyncratic sights.

View of Club Passim | © Alyssa Erspamer

Club Passim

Immediately off of Harvard Square, Club Passim has managed, over its 20 years of existence, to combine the capacities of a delicious restaurant, serving dishes such as organic black bean burgers and wild Alaskan salmon burgers, with those of a music club that continuously holds live music events. The basement space consists of a large room with black tables and chairs scattered around before a stage for the performers. The lights are normally dimmed, creating a smart and relaxing ambience. Events include, for example, the CD Release on November 11th of Low Lily, a well-known group in the folk music world consisting of three voices, guitars, a fiddle, and a mandolin. Club Passim also has a bar serving wine and beer as well as coffee and soda. Go online to get a membership to Passim (student memberships are free)!

Inside Café Pamplona | © Alyssa Erspamer

Café Pamplona

When looking for a break from the bustle of Harvard Square, away from all the students and street musicians, look no further than Café Pamplona. It serves regular coffee shop items, and then some with a Spanish twist — check out the Spanish lattes and flan. There are two seating options at Pamplona, both with their own charm. If the weather is nice, customers can choose to sit on the tables outside, which have a European feel and are just down a street from Harvard Square to avoid the noise. The basement inside the café provides another nice setting; the atmosphere is cozy, especially in the wintertime, with the yellow walls and checkered floors giving the space some character. This setting is ideal for a book and a cup of coffee.

Bookshelves inside Raven Used Books | © Alyssa Erspamer

Raven Used Books

This basement bookstore may be little, but it is stocked full with books of various sorts, especially literary and scholarly texts to appeal to the large academic population in Cambridge. The bookstore, indeed, gained loyal customers almost immediately after its opening in 2005. Customers know that they can expect quality books in good condition from professors, students, and the large amount of readers in the area. More than 1,200 new books come in the store each week, totaling about 15,000 books in stock at any given time. The interior design of the bookstore is impatient with any superfluous decorations; the shelves stretch from the floor to the ceiling and are crammed with books — there are even some stacked on the radiator. This is the perfect bookstore in which to spend time browsing the shelves and discovering new titles, all without the higher prices of a normal bookstore.

Store Front of the Brattle Theatre | © Alyssa Erspamer

Brattle Theatre

This little theatre is a favorite for locals due to its commitment to showing films that other cinemas do not show anymore — quality, not novelty, is the name of the game here. Indie, classic, and more artistic films are shown at the Brattle, catering to film connoisseurs. Their unique events, such as Trash Night, where the audience is encouraged to participate while an uncommon comedic feature is played, also attract many audience members. They also have yearly traditions, such as Casablanca on Valentine’s Day. Check out their calendar and special events.

Records and discs for sale at In Your Ear | © Alyssa Erspamer

In Your Ear

Proclaiming itself on its website as the ‘little store that could,’ In Your Ear has been selling new and used records, CDs, and DVDs since 1982. Its appearance is not flashy; many fail to notice it at all, as it is located down some stairs, across a hallway that smells like trash, and through a glass door that seems to be cracked. At the end of this trek, a customer will be faced with a little store crammed with records and other merchandise, blasting music from speakers, and most likely empty except for one of the workers, who may or may not acknowledge the customer’s entrance. It is geared toward real music lovers who can get lost by browsing through scores of different tracks for sale. As it also sells and buys used products, it is the perfect place to get rid of some of your older discs!

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