Cambridge’s Greenest Eatery


Outside the Cambridge Common on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge. Bonus points: name the famous evolutionary biologist (hint: he has an accent).

On Massachusetts Avenue, halfway between Harvard and Porter Squares in Cambridge, can be found  a restaurant, Cambridge Common, which serves a tasty burger and decent fries, and plenty of good beer. What makes this restaurant really stand out, however, is its downstairs auditorium for live music, the Lizard Lounge (described by the Boston Globe on the lounge’s website as “a bordello parlor-like space of red velvet, Persian rugs, and [a] fringe, and ethnically diverse and uniformly young and hip crowd”). And even more winsome, plastered across the front wall of the building, facing traffic (and doubtless the cause of many accidents resulting from the gawking of bewitched drivers), is a much larger than life, oddly colored photograph of Anolis carolinensis.

Questions abound. Why, for example, did the CC decide about a year ago to remove the charming painting of a day gecko and replace it with the colorized green anole photo? And whence the name “Lizard Lounge”? I’d send you to their website, but it’s uninformative on these important matters.

Rather, a little history and guesswork. Ernest Williams, the grand old man of Anolis, the man who put Anolis on the map, was a man of habit. And also a life-long bachelor. He would have his daily regimen, and later in life, that included a long, leisurely lunch at the Cambridge Common. Did Williams’ patronage somehow lead to them naming their music room after his passion? It’s tempting to speculate that because he was a regular attendee at concerts held therein, they named the room in his honor, but that would be entirely fictitious. And perhaps it was only recently that an apt employee, in hearing re-told the aged stories, passed down over the years from one staff member to another, of the great man, put two-and-two together and realized that they had the wrong green lizard on their exterior, leading to a rapid renovation. That surmise, too, has no evidence behind it.

To get the real low-down, Anole Annals contacted Holly Heslop, majordomo at the Common. She replied that the green anole on the restaurant’s exterior “…was chosen strictly for its natural good looks (we’d had the previous lizard for years and were looking for a pretty new face).  We briefly flirted with a photo of a gecko licking its eye, but, though riveting, it turned out to be a little too creepy.  

As for the name, it was the product of a bit of brainstorming and a bit of panic when we opened.  We had talked about the space lending itself to a lounge-y kind of atmosphere, so of course the term “lounge lizard” had come up.  And when the Phoenix(or the Globe, I can’t remember which) called to say they were planning to do a big story on our opening and asked the name of the club, we had to come up with something immediately.  About four of us claim credit for first saying, “how about Lizard Lounge” … regardless, it stuck.  (It also seemed to fit nicely with our already-established club in Porter Square, TOAD.)

On a related subject, here’s an urban legend story about the name:  three Harvard students were having dinner at West Side Lounge one night when I was working there.  They had a table with a view of Lizard Lounge across the street, and when I delivered drinks to their table, they asked if I wanted to know how Lizard Lounge came by its name.  Of course I did.  They said that one of their professors, a herpetologist, was a close friend of the owner, who had asked for advice when naming the clubs.  The professor suggested that perhaps either lizard or toad might catch on, and sure enough, both were used.  I don’t know how these stories start, but I love them!”

About Jonathan Losos

Author and Professor at Harvard University
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6 Responses to Cambridge’s Greenest Eatery

  1. cybokat says:

    I don’t think that the guy on the pic has an accent.. or does he?

  2. Jonathan Losos says:

    He didn’t think so either! I had some other hints about him, but none of them was PG rated.

  3. Nancy Staub says:

    I believe that must be Herr Dr. Axel Meyer.

  4. marthamunoz says:

    Be careful! The lizard bites!

  5. Jonathan Losos says:

    Ok, that was an easy one. But try to name all three jokers here.

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