BEACON HILL - If the rumors of the death of beer gardens in Boston are greatly exaggerated, that doesn’t mean there isn't an ongoing fight to limit them.
Earlier in January, Senators Nick Collins (D-MA, Boston) and Ed Kennedy (D-MA, Lowell) introduced a bill in the Massachusetts State House which proposed a 14-day cap on the number of one-day licenses for outdoor beer gardens in the city per year. Under current law, operators can obtain a one-day license allowing outdoor sales for up to 30 days per applicant, allowing numerous applicants from the same business to register subject to licensing board approval.
The Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which has officially backed the bill, claims nearby restaurants have seen a 25 percent decrease over the past three years as a result of the proliferation of beer gardens. “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,” said Bob Luz, president of the MRA.
Beer garden operators beg to disagree. “It’s disappointing that the quick reaction is to completely eliminate something which is so popular with residents and provides an economic and social benefit to the surrounding communities they serve,” says Jonathan Tompkins, Director of Marketing for Trillium Brewing Company (which inaugurated the city’s beer hall craze in 2017.)
To date, Mayor Walsh (who has not come out in support of the proposed bill) has recently petitioned an act allowing 184 new liquor licenses to be distributed throughout the city over the next three years, referring to his proposed expansion as a balanced approach ensuring that “neighborhoods historically disadvantaged by the liquor license process will receive their fair share.”
Senator Collins, on the other hand, has stated he feels the playing feel is tilted. “One-day licenses are a flat $75-$150 fee, with no public process or hearing,” he issued in a public statement. “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.”
In 2018, the City of Boston issued 82 one-day permits for beer tents. The Alcoholic Beverages Controls Commission currently allows for up to 650 full liquor licenses and 320 wine and malt licenses per establishment.
“We’re trying to solve a problem of why people aren’t going to restaurants by killing beer gardens, which seems kind of crazy to me,” Rob Burns, president of Everett-based Night Shift Brewing (which currently hosts several outdoor beer gardens along the Esplanade and in Allston), recently told Boston.com. “I think this is filling a consumer need to enjoy the outdoors in Massachusetts. I wish we would work more collaboratively before something like this gets thrown out there.”
There are currently no public hearings scheduled for the proposed bill.