The Return of the Nightlife King: Seth Greenberg
Of course, some relationships are easier to negotiate than others. Back in the late ’90s, even as his star was on the rise, Greenberg wasn’t universally loved. For all that talk of world peace and brotherhood, M-80 had managed to piss a lot of people off. Greenberg never cozied up to City Hall, and made matters worse by speaking out in the press against Mayor Tom Menino’s nightclub curfews. Over the years, M-80 was cited for numerous license violations, from overcrowding and underage drinking to disorderly patrons. On one memorable October night in 1999, officers found "a mob from wall to wall," according to the police report, plus a blocked exit, underage partygoers, and a woman passed out on a couch. While they were investigating these offenses, two fistfights broke out.
And if that wasn’t headache enough, Greenberg had another image problem. Many Bostonians, put off by the Euros’ ostentatious displays of wealth, took to calling his customer base "Eurotrash." Some M-80 patrons, turned off by what they regarded as the cops’ imperious approach to traffic control outside the club, grew standoffish with police. "Don’t talk to me like that," they’d say. "Do you know who I am?" Rock aficionados were offended at being rushed out of the Paradise at 10 p.m. to make more room for the dance crowd on nights when M-80 took over the entire club. It was true that the business made more money off liquor sales than concerts, but this sort of thing frustrated powerful concert promoters like Don Law.
To make matters worse, Law still owned a minority share in the club, as did Lyons, so Greenberg had to contend with not just irate customers, but also grumpy investors. While Greenberg won’t comment on what soured his relationship with Lyons, he did complain in a 2000 Boston profile that Lyons misrepresented the amount of debt attached to the Paradise at the time of the 1984 sale. (Lyons did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.) There were other hints of discord: In a 1993 Globe interview, Greenberg described the Paradise as "a trashy old ’70s rock ‘n’ roll venue." It seemed the mentee had turned into quite an upstart.
The city suspended the club’s liquor license for two weeks in 1996, and in 1998 tried to suspend its entertainment license as well. The Herald crowed, "Menino Hates Greenberg!" and the Globe noted that "one of the few parties at which Mayor Tom Menino did not appear this year was the private grand-opening celebration…at Aria, the nightclub in the basement of the Wilbur Theatre owned by Seth Greenberg and John Platt." In a 1998 Globe interview, Nancy Lo, then the city’s director of consumer affairs, called M-80 the worst-run club in town. "Nancy Lo gave me a gift," Greenberg says. "That was a gift. That was a message. It was a good time for me to transition out of the nightclub business."
He got another nudge in that direction two years later, when the licensing board padlocked M-80 and suspended its liquor license for six months.
Greenberg was informed the club would be able to retain its licenses only if a new operator were found. He cast about for a buyer, but eventually, and reluctantly, had to turn the club over to Pat Lyons, the man who had given him his start but with whom he now had a strained relationship. "Lyons was a stockholder in the company, and as such, he made a competing offer to the shareholders," Greenberg says. "It gave them an exit option, and everyone accepted."