After 27 and a half years of live music, political events, wedding receptions, community fundraisers, and much more, Bella Luna & The Milky Way has announced that it will permanently shut its doors.
The restaurant closed on March 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and its co-founders said they do not feel safe returning to business even now that they are allowed.
Kathie Mainzer, one of Bella Luna’s founders, told the Gazette that “when we saw what was happening with the virus and how severe the medical impact was on people,” the team decided it would be best to not reopen. Even now, when many restaurants have been serving customers outdoors and preparing to serve them indoors once again, “when we looked ahead to the fall and winter, we did not see a safe way to operate,” she said.
Bella Luna opened in 1993 with a goal to “build community and create a really inclusive, welcoming place where everybody felt comfortable,” Mainzer said. Mainzer, along with co-founders Charlie Rose, Carol Downs, Pierre Apollon, and Megan Mainzer, started the 19-seat pizza restaurant on Centre St. in Hyde Square—JP’s Latin Quarter.
“Bella Luna means ‘beautiful moon’ in both Italian and Spanish,” co-founder Charlie Rose explained in a statement. “We wanted our food and our vibe to be welcoming to all.”
In 1999, Bella Luna acquired the candlepin bowling alley in the basement, and added The Milky Way Lounge & Lanes.
“We wanted everyone to feel welcome; to bring everyone together,” Mainzer said. Over the years, the restaurant and lounge have been home to many events in the neighborhood, including a visit from former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, many reggae concerts, and the longest running Latin Night in Boston.
Bella Luna was also the venue for musician Rick Berlin’s fundraiser for moveon.org, “hundreds of community fundraisers,” many political events, and the first wedding reception when gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, Mainzer said.
“Our space has always been like a big community living room where people come together to celebrate important moments, dance, have fun and share their talents,” co-founder Megan Mainzer said in a statement. “We are proud to have been a safe space where people could feel free to be who they are.”
The year 2009 marked the end of a 15 year lease at the Centre St. location, and renewing it meant a rent increase, so Bella Luna moved to a space at The Brewery Complex on Amory St. Although the bowling was lost, the spirit of the space remained and continued to be a destination for entertainment and community support.
To mark the transition from old to new, a parade was held from the Centre St. location to the new one at the Brewery complex.
“We had invited neighbors to come and have a parade with us from the old location to the new location saying goodbye and welcoming the new,” Mainzer said, “and we expected maybe 100 people to show up. Instead, over 1000 people participated.” Stilt walkers from Spontaneous Celebrations participated in the parade, as well as a New Orleans jazz band and a Brazilian drum corps. “It was really spectacular,” she said.
The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), which owns the Brewery Complex, became Bella Luna’s new landlord.
“The JPNDC has been really wonderful; a great partner,” Mainzer said “The JPNDC understands and supports small businesses and we are eternally grateful for their commitment to a more inclusive and equitable Boston,” the co-founders said in a statement. “They welcomed us with open arms and have supported us through this especially challenging chapter.”
The team said that with so much uncertainty around when large community gatherings can occur again, keeping the restaurant open per state guidelines would not be sustainable in the long run as its mission would not be able to be carried out.
Additionally, Mainzer said that some of the restaurant’s team as well as its customers have tested positive for the virus over the past few months.
“We didn’t really feel safe having staff coming in on public transportation and unloading boxes of deliveries,” she said. “Right at the beginning we just didn’t feel it was safe for our guests or our team. We would hate to have a gust or staff member become ill. We just couldn’t sleep at night.”
The owners expressed their thanks and appreciation for everyone who came to the restaurant and lounge over the years.
“We’re just in a place of gratitude for the 27.5 years where we served the community and built community and shared so many wonderful events with so many families throughout the city,” Mainzer said, adding that many customers have reached out to show their love and express their sadness via social media.
“Thank you for believing in our mission of community and sharing that mission and coming together in the way that people have has been really wonderful and we’re proud to have been part of it.”