Last Dance

They're finally going to tear down Faces, the old Route 2 disco that's been a ramshackle eyesore for the past 20 years. Before the wrecking ball swings, though, we take a moment to remember an iconic nightclub where the party—like youth itself— promised to last forever.

Illustration by Maurice Vellekoop. Photograph by Bob O'Connor

Illustration by Maurice Vellekoop. Photograph by Boston Globe, Getty Images

It was the late 1970s, troubling times in many ways — hostages in Iran, gas more than a dollar a gallon, Jimmy Carter pleading with a nation to conserve electricity. Legions of young people chose to leave their problems behind by wriggling into gold lamé jumpsuits and doing the hustle. And for some of us around here — western suburbs, twenties, on the party circuit — that meant just one thing: Faces.

A former supper club along Route 2 in Cambridge, Faces was an unlikely runaway success for the four Martignetti brothers — sons of one of the liquor-store magnates — who’d decided to take a chance on disco.

Faces became the place to go: a big-city club in the suburbs where the dance floors were packed, the bars well stocked, and the parking free. There were hulking, tuxedoed bouncers and bartenders, cocktail waitresses in miniskirts darting through crowds of revelers, and the DJ up in his booth, spinning vinyl back when vinyl was all there was. On Friday and Saturday nights, 2,000 gyrating, satin-draped bodies busted their best moves across three parquet dance floors and shimmied up to one of five bars. For nearly 15 years, Faces reigned.

And then, it rotted — before our very eyes. The Martignettis closed Faces in the early ’90s but, claiming they were hamstrung by zoning issues, refused to tear the place down. In time, huge white letters began to tumble from the once-proud Faces sign that still stands like a warped beacon over Route 2. Graffiti marred the formerly pristine building. Plywood went up over broken windows. Cracks in the parking lot sprouted waist-high weeds. For two decades now, the shuttered nightclub has been thumbing its ugly nose at commuters, a bizarre monument to a time that seems like just yesterday but also an entire lifetime away.

Now, at long last, Faces is slated for demolition this spring. So, as we bid a collective adieu to this most hated — and beloved — landmark, we take a wistful look back in the words of those who knew the place best.

Eileen Doherty | Patron  In those days, the drinking age was 18. I graduated high school in ’75, when I was 17. I had to wait until the next summer to go. A big crowd of us would go five nights out of seven. They were closed two nights a week, and that’s when we’d stay home and sleep.

Mark DeAngelis | Manager  I was one of those people who grew up at Faces. I started working there right after high school as a bouncer. It was the place to be, inside or outside of Boston. That place would be absolutely packed on Friday and Saturday nights. The whole place, with standing room, held close to 2,000 people, and we did standing-room-only for a few years in the ’80s. The line would start to build outside the front of the building, all around the corner. We used to open at 9 at night. Being in my forties now, that’s when I like to be in my pajamas.

Dave “Mull-T” Barstow | Bartender  You know Studio 54? We were the Boston version of that. You got dressed up — the best it could be — the nice clothes, the bling, the money. Even if it was all fake, for that night everyone lived like a rock star.

Photograph courtesy of Steven Burke

Photograph courtesy of Steven Burke

Steven Burke | DJ  (pictured) I was the first DJ at Faces, back in the fall of 1976, and I played there for nine and a half years. When we first opened up, it was prior to Saturday Night Fever. None of the music was on the radio. DJs had to haunt record companies in Boston for new music. We would knock on their door and go, “Got any R&B? Got something danceable?”

Doherty  It was such a carefree time. I don’t think people have that kind of fun going out now. We’d get all dolled up, with our dark eyes and dark lips and lots of glitter and sheen and our stilettos and clutch bags. My girlfriends would come to pick me up and they’d toot out in front of my house at midnight and my mother would flip out. But that was the thing. It was a total “scene” disco. You walked in late. You made an entrance.

John Rodrigues | Bartender  On Friday and Saturday nights, there would be 12 bartenders working, 12 waitresses, and the place was packed and it was non-stop. From 9 o’clock to 2 in the morning, you were just flat-out serving drinks.

Charlie Balyozian | General Manager  I started in 1976, six months after it opened. I was a senior at UMass and I was divorced, and I started hanging out at this place called a disco. I worked my way up to general manager. The Martignettis didn’t know it would be such a success. Saturday Night Fever did more for that business than anything else. The original nightclub held 250 people. The expanded nightclub held 2,000.

Doherty  I think my funniest memory was the Blizzard of ’78. We all walked there. It wasn’t too far from Arlington, but people walked from much farther. I remember seeing a girl in the ladies’ room, and she’d walked there in her boots and jeans and heavy coat, holding her glitzy outfit in a dry-cleaning bag. She’d walked all the way from Medford holding it.

Burke  Saturday Night Fever changed things. And, toward the end of the ’70s it got a little punky — that was like “Planet Claire” by the B-52s, “Pop Muzik” by M. Then we got further into the ’80s with Madonna. And, of course, Donna Summer has always been all over the picture.

DeAngelis  There were three main dance floors, and then upstairs there were these lounges. You’d see people try to get the best place to be seen. They’d park somewhere and put on these elaborate dances to be noticed. I remember guys coming in from Boston in these unbelievable outfits, standing together, doing this choreographed dance over and over to every song, just waiting for girls to come and talk to them.


Photograph courtesy of Deb James

Photograph courtesy of Deb James

Deb James | Bartender (pictured)I began working at Faces as a cocktail waitress in 1986 at age 20. Within a year I became a bartender. The waitresses had to push their way through crowds. I took a different approach. Instead of pushing them out of the way, I’d run my hand down their back or across their chest. They’d say, “Ohhh!” and move out of my way. There was one night that I touched a guy, and he turned to me and said, “Oh, my God! You’re the ‘touchy-feely’ waitress that my friends talk about. I just had to come here and find you!”

Burke  During the ’80s, we had the largest video screen of any club in the area. I think it may have been 20 feet by 20 feet. It was like a wall. For special events, we used to have a lot of performers of the day — Thelma Houston, Sarah Dash, the Ritchie Family, Paul Parker. The Cars? No. This was a disco. This was a disco.

DeAngelis  It was very ’80s — the hairdos, the outfits, the whole deal. Everything had zippers on it. It would not be odd to see people wearing a Michael Jackson glove.

Rodrigues  One time we were cleaning the nightclub from the night before and there was a knock on the front door, and it was just a scruffy-looking guy with some scruffy young kids. It was the manager for Mötley Crüe, and they wanted to perform because they were just starting out. We told them no. It wasn’t the type of music the club was used to.

James  One of the things I loved about working at Faces was that the employees felt like family. There were so many times that we hung out and laughed together in the back parking lot after work and drank until the sun came up. We also used to go to breakfast at 3 a.m. almost every Friday and Saturday night.

Dave Salani  | Bartender  The Martignetti brothers were great people to work for. I remember when my father passed away while I was working there, every one of the four brothers made it a point to make it to my father’s wake.

Rodrigues  After the first couple of years, the Martignetti brothers started looking for ways to draw different age groups, and on off nights they’d have Hot Legs contests. They’d play Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” and they’d have girls parade up onstage; guys would clap for the girls with the best-looking legs.

DeAngelis  Eventually, the business started dying. People started going into Boston and going to the Palace. So they decided to make Faces an under-21 club. It worked out pretty well for a while. Then I think the gangs started coming in. It started to get unsafe. The parents, I think, stopped letting their kids come. That’s my take on it. It could have been the club scene just dying out, period.


Photograph by Bob O'Connor

Photograph by Bob O’Connor

Barstow  The disco thing fizzled out. Then they tried to do this underage thing because by then the drinking age had changed. That was a complete disaster because you got a room full of punk kids.

DeAngelis  I got a call from Tony [Martignetti] that they were gonna try to go back to over-21. We had a grand reopening. They advertised everywhere, cleaned the place up. It was a Friday night, which was always our busy night. We absolutely packed the place — busier than I’d ever seen it. Everybody that used to go came. It was an incredible success. We were all: “Yeah! Faces is back!” The next night, maybe 200 people showed — just nothing. So that was kind of sad. I stayed on a little bit longer as a bartender. I think they eventually went back to under-21 and then ended up closing.

James  When they finally closed for good, there were so many tears. I couldn’t imagine not having Faces anymore. I didn’t want to ever grow up. To this day, Faces was my favorite job ever.

Rodrigues  In my off time, I used to go up to the DJ booth and spin my own records. And I made about 50 cassette tapes of continuous dance music from that time. I listen to them all the time. It’s basically the only music I listen to now.

Burke  It’s very, very nostalgic for me when I go by that site. I feel bad that it looks the way it does. I wish I could go inside and see it again.

Doherty  I put the Faces sign as my Facebook profile picture. There are three Faces groups on Facebook. Mine is called Faces Disco. And I’m a member of the other two, too. When I see Faces now, I always — always — think of the good times. Everyone else is complaining about it. I think of all the fun we had.

Balyozian  A few weeks ago I was in the Whole Foods in Woburn with my wife and I walked up to a guy who works there, and I said, “Where’s the tomato paste?” And the guy looked at me, pointed his finger, and said, “Faces!” And I said, “Did I throw you out?” And he said, “Probably.” And I said, “Where’s the tomato paste?”

DeAngelis  When I drove by Faces a few years ago, it was so depressing — the parking lot all cracked and the grass coming through it.

James  The last time I was in Boston, I drove by Faces. I just cried to see the building abandoned. Faces was a huge part of my young life, before children. Those were my carefree college days. Within a few weeks of Faces closing, I found out that I was pregnant. At that moment, my life changed forever. I had to grow up.