Tim cushman

When my wife Nancy and I were opening Hojoko, a Japanese izakaya located next to the music-centric Verb Hotel in the Fenway neighborhood, we wired everything with the intent of having live bands.

As a lifelong musician, I wanted to create a space for music at a time when iconic venues across the city have been shuttering.

In the ’70s, there was an awesome music scene in Boston. Well, two scenes. There were blues clubs, and then there were rock clubs. They were small, but bands could make a living playing. There was enough demand and people loved going out. Plus, the drinking age was 18 then, so that helped.

But clubs like that have gone by the wayside. In the past few years, venues like T.T. the Bear’s, Church and Johnny D’s have closed. There’s definitely an underground scene still, but bands don’t get as much of an opportunity to perform.

We want to bring that back. We want Hojoko to be one of those old venues for new bands.

I grew up loving music. I went to high school in the ’60s, so I got to see all the really cool bands. I saw Jimi Hendrix, I saw Led Zeppelin on their first tour, the original Jefferson Airplane with Grace Slick.

I started playing guitar in high school in a band called Joe Foot and the Toe Jam, and got even more serious in the years after, playing at venues in Boston and Cambridge and getting into the Berklee College of Music, where I earned a degree in performance, specializing in jazz and classical guitar. I only took one summer off, and it was a summer I got a job in a restaurant. I swore I’d never work in another restaurant. But here I am.

 We want to bring that back. We want Hojoko to be one of those old venues for new bands.

I moved to Los Angeles and started going on auditions, including one with a member of the Runaways. But slowly I morphed into working in restaurants, which I realized could be a source of creativity and fun. I was in southern California, and it really kind of set the foundation for what we’re doing with California-inspired food today, even 37 years later.

waitress tying on her apron

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I never stopped playing music, though. My wife Nancy also plays piano and guitar, and she sings. When we moved back to Boston, we put a band together called Blue Cheese. We were playing rock and roll in bars around town. Then when we opened O Ya, we went on hiatus for a bit and then regrouped, but with a different band that has a different name every time we play.

One of the most fun nights was when we were about to open Hojoko. Japanese heavy metal band Shonen Knife was set to play our opening night, but construction pushed the start date back, so we headed over to nearby Church, which has since closed, instead. Our band opened–that night calling ourselves Rock Shrimp.

A few months ago, Shonen Knife came back to play at Hojoko. It was just one performance of many we’ve held and are planning to hold in the future. We’re in talks with Berklee for a collaboration, and we host live bands, and regularly have DJs on Saturday nights before karaoke takes over for late night.

 I never stopped playing music.

But we really want to up the live bands. We want to bring it back to where there’s an opportunity for local bands, or smaller bands on tour, to perform in the city when other venues are closing. On Sept. 13, we’re hosting Hojoko Rocks to benefit the Girls Rock Campaign Boston, and on Sept. 15, the Boston Music Awards will announce nominees from Hojoko, and some of the bands will play live. We’re planning on starting a more regular series with them, as well. There’s also a Vanyaland x Hojokoween Rock Show planned for Oct. 31, which will feature two local bands.

What’s cool about our setup is that we don’t have a stage inside Hojoko. You’re literally up close and personal and the bands really respond to that too. You can come in for dinner and enjoy the restaurant and then stay as it turns more into a music-oriented environment. We even have shareable “For the Band” cocktails.

To that point, an important part of Hojoko is that we offer a late night menu. We did that for both the food and the music industries because I remember when I was in bands, you’d play and you’d get out and be starving. There isn’t a lot of late night; Boston goes to bed early. We said, let’s have a place where you can go and get good sushi and ramen and a burger, whether you’re in a band or getting off your shift at a restaurant.

For us, it’s about creating harmonies–both in the kitchen and behind the mic.

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Chef Tim Cushman has been cooking and consulting for over 30 years. Currently, Tim is Chef & Co-Proprietor of o ya in Boston and in New York City, Roof at Park South in New York City and the newly opened Hojoko Japanese Tavern in Boston and Covina in New York City.