Boston, MA– If you’ve stepped foot anywhere within a one mile radius of Boston over the past three years, you’ve probably noticed the ubiquity of pop-up beer gardens during the summertime. In fact, in 2018, there were 82 one-day licenses issued to beer tents in Boston alone. Whether you view them as a convivial hub of community and breezy humor or merely a feeding pen with booze, they’re an indisputable fixture of city life.
The beer garden, despite its surge in popularity, is hardly an institution unique to Boston. In fact, you could say it’s far from an institution at all. And Senators Nick Collins and Ed Kennedy, with backing from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, would like to keep it that way.
Senators Kennedy (D-MA, Lowell) and Collins (D-MA, Boston) have proposed a bill currently in the State House seeking to put a 14-day cap on the number of one-day licenses for outdoor beer gardens per year. As licensing regulations stand, an individual or business may obtain a one-day license allowing the outdoor sale of beer for up to 30 days per applicant, subject to approval from licensing boards. Numerous applicants from a business may obtain a license however, allowing beer gardens to hypothetically stay open all season long.
“One-day licenses are a flat $75-$150 fee, with no public process or hearing. That is fine for one day occasions, as they were designed, but for seasonal operations we should have a system in place that reflects the true nature of the license. By comparison, full liquor licenses for restaurants are often valued between $250,000 and $500,000 on the private market,” Senator Collins stated earlier this year.
“It’s not fair to those people that have invested literally millions of dollars, employ 50, 60, 70 people year-round, and do it in good weather and bad weather to earn a living,” Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, told Boston magazine earlier this week, adding that the MRA is not “where fun goes to die.” (You’re right, Bob. City Hall is where fun goes to die.)
Jonathan Tompkins, marketing director of Trillium Brewing Company (which kicked off the beer tent trend in Boston back in 2017), begged to disagree. “The outdoor events bring energy, community pride, and revenue to neighborhoods that need awareness and revitalization.”
The Alcoholic Beverages Controls Commission, which oversees the retail sale of spirits, allows for up to 650 full liquor licenses and 320 wine and malt licenses per establishment within the city of Boston. There are currently over 4,500 restaurants and bars in the city. How applicants are approved has been a mystery which has haunted restaurateurs in the city for decades; but it’s been estimated that the average waiting period can take up to 90 days.
Mind you, red tape and a wholesale lack of bureaucratic transparency has never been to blame for either diminished retail sales or a general draining of all things fun. Ever.