These days, Sox Country bears little resemblance to the Fenway/Kenmore of the ’70s and ‘80s, when it was a rock ‘n’ roll enclave, home to iconic clubs like the Rat and frequented by acts like the Velvet Underground and the J. Geils Band. Bill’s Bar (now boasting a shiny new sign) stood as the last vestiges of a bygone era. Until now.
When hotelier Robin Brown, developer Steve Samuels and partner Adam Weiner took ownership of Fenway’s Howard Johnson—a worn holdover that stood out starkly in the swiftly gentrified neighborhood—they decided not to raze the old motel. They wanted to retain the original structure and, more importantly, the history of the neighborhood.
So they transformed it into the music-themed Verb Hotel, set to open Aug.1 as “living proof of history of what this whole area is about,” says Brown. “There are so many different characters that came through this area—it’s phenomenal.”
To capture that history, they tapped David Bieber, former archivist of the now-defunct Boston Phoenix, which last called Fenway home. He’s collected music memorabilia—flyers, ticket stubs, promo photos, set lists bearing dusty boot prints from dingy club floors—for most of his life. He never knew quite what he was saving them for—until the Verb reached out. “It was that whole idea of ‘I’m going to do this someday,’ but then someday never quite comes,” he says. “And then, finally, someday came. That opened the boxes, and put some sunlight on these things.”
Bieber selected some 40 to 50 pieces of memorabilia from his vast collection—including decades-old Phoenix covers—to adorn the hotel’s walls, which has been decorated with a keen, almost “obsessive,” eye for nuanced detail, according to Brown. (They hired a photographer to snap photos of the numbers on unique doors around the neighborhood to serve as room numbers at the hotel.)
The memorabilia addresses “all categories of music and all kinds of different performers,” Bieber says. “Gang Green was the Boston band that could’ve been Green Day before Green Day, you know?” His careful curation aims to create a timeline of the music scene, going back to the ‘60s, tracing a thread he hopes will resonate with today’s guests.
“It sort of just shows you the sense of activity, the involvement, the incarnations of clubs,” he explains. “It is truly fascinating to look at the changing nature of the economics, ticket prices, things that evolve. Now it seems quaint, and yet here is the legitimate documentation of it all.”
The theme doesn’t stop at decor. The Verb went headhunting at Berklee to build an artistically inclined staff. In the lobby, a vintage turntable waits with records handpicked by Bieber, inviting guests to soundtrack their own check-in experience. “It’s another aspect of what this hotel is about—nostalgia, engagement and the tangible nature of it,” he says.
In the end, both Bieber and Brown maintain that the Verb will be what guests make of it. And they hope they make the most of it. “The intent is not to hard-sell people with a storyline,” says Bieber. “There is nothing to it except to suggest that this was, this happened, this was a moment in time. You get to see the footprint; you get to see the kind of ragged edge from the notebook.”