The debate over Boston's dull nightlife, and the possibility of improving it, has flared up again in recent weeks. The spark was the launch of the Future Boston Alliance, a group that advocates for a "loosened-up" city; it was unsurprisingly brushed off by the 19-year-old Menino adminstration. (Note to blog followers primarily interested in my Top 100 Sitcom Episodes countdown: This is not off-topic, as the depiction of community-building is one thing that interests me about sitcoms.)
This morning, on the Sunday of a long weekend when just about everyone with the means has fled Boston, the Globe's Dante Ramos weighed with an indictment of the "Boston bar buzz-kill":
Nightlife — the bars, clubs, and restaurants where people hang out after hours — is a major part of the image a city presents to the world, or at least to a crucial sliver of entrepreneurial, highly mobile workers who are prone to comparison-shopping among cities. Yet Boston’s anti-fun image isn’t just bad publicity; it’s written into the law. Happy-hour drink promotions are banned statewide under a Dukakis-era state measure meant to curb drunk driving. Another state law requires bars to obtain a specific license before they allow patrons to dance. Boston’s entertainment license application asks venues to quantify their dartboards and wide-screen TVs. The rules are enforced. At a February concert at the House of Blues, Boston police broke up a mosh pit they deemed insufficiently supervised.
In a sidebar, Ramos notes that Boston nightlife is also stifled by the state's cap on liquor licenses on the Hub:
Boston ranks only 119th among the state’s cities and towns in the number of liquor licenses per resident. In this regard, the center of New England’s convention and tourism industry — the third-most walkable major American city, and an economic hub whose population is said to double every workday — ranks just behind quaint little Ayer. The artificial scarcity creates a seller’s market for existing Boston licenses; buyers may pay $50,000 for a beer and wine license, news reports indicate, and from about $200,000 to as much as $450,000 for a full liquor license.
This scarcity also inadvertently (I hope) skews the drinking scene toward upscale, kiwitini bars as opposed to neighborhood places and "dive" bars. (It's hard to imagine a spilling-onto-the-sidewalk place like McSorley's — one of the friendliest places I've ever visited in New York City — being tolerated in Boston.)
The Herald also had a column on the topic this morning. Peter Gelzinis delivers the obligatory Herald sneer at "oppressed hipsters," as well as the old "we can't even discuss this until we solve our bigger, unsolvable problems" argument. He notes that someone was murdered in the Theater District last month (it's apparently offensive to even think about drinking late until the crime rate is zero), and besides our kids aren't learning:
On that list of things Tom Menino worries about, like the quality of our schools, the safety of our neighborhoods and how to pay for it all, I don’t think he anguishes over whether folks can dance until the sun comes up.
(Gelzinis is right that the "Loosen Up, Boston" movement isn't going anywhere until its proponents "haunt street corners in West Roxbury, Savin Hill, Roxbury, Charlestown and Southie with candidate signs and nomination papers." And no, he doesn't mean candidates for president of the United States.)
I'm totally behind the efforts to kill the Boston buzz-kill, but it won't be easy. I don't think the Hub is really Puritan or anti-fun. It's more that famously reserved Bostonians aren't that comfortable in the public sphere. I'm not sure that having more bars open later will do anything about our reputation for frostiness. How many people over 25 would actually patronize them, as opposed to having little gatherings on South End rooftops or in Jamaica Plain living rooms? Would we spend the money that we now save for trips to Cape Cod, New York City, and other places where we "get away" and relax? (This morning I tweeted "Q. is how many Bostonians would utilize expanded nightlife, as opposed to saving $ for out-of-town trips. Who's here this wknd?" To his credit, Ramos replied, "'Not me,' he confesses guiltily.")
So if Boston did expand its nightlife (not just bars, but also diners and coffeehouses that don't serve alcohol), would you take advantage of it? To my out-of-town friends: Would you finally come visit?
Here are some other tweets on the subject from this morning and afternoon (most of them in response to, and retweeted by, @danteramos):
@annesaurus People with an oar in city planning persist of thinking of Boston as a tiny village. Metro Boston is huge.
@elastyk: it's impossible to change anything here, from new Real Estate Dev to culture, everything is filtered through Menino's lens
@tom_lowell_born it's shocking that book discussions and chess matches are not wildly hot with today's 20 somethings
@nicolegelinas Boston: "Pack a sandwich if you expect to eat something after 9pm."
@stevegarfield I've always though that Boston needs more pubs, like London, & fewer banks, nail salons and real estate offices at street level.