Police raid techie holiday party

Via Scott Kirsner, we learn the BPD licensing division shut down the bar at the Boston Holiday Tech Co-Party at the Revere Hotel early this morning because it was an open bar and that's against the law for events that charge admission.

The party, co-sponsored by a who's who list of local venture and tech law firms - and Red Bull and Absolut - is an annual event aimed at giving small startups a way to get the feel of a large company office party. Admission this year was $50.

Neighborhoods: 

Topics: 

    Free tagging: 

    Comments

    Wait a minute....

    Then how do the "beer/scotch/wine tasting" events do it? They charge admission for a ticket to get in and then you can go to any vendor and drink yourself silly for free.

    How is that any different than a party where you buy a ticket for admission and then drink yourself silly for free at an open bar?

    up
    23

    It seems that would be

    It seems that would be different since it isn't an "open bar" per se. You are limited to what the vendors brought with them.

    Personally, I think the BPD is at root a puritanical organization and they can never shake the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

    up
    29

    So, it turns out...

    The "tastings" (and I assume they all get the same paintbrush) are an exception written into the regulation directly. So are "private functions" but in 2004 the ABCC decided that if you sell tickets to the public, it's not a "private function" and they put up a long list of requirements to be called a "private function" by their new 2004 definition that basically rules out absolutely anything except a company party or a wedding.

    up
    15

    Selective enforcement is going on. What else is new.

    Ive seen and been to a 100 high profile charity events in this town where guests are charged for tickets and then offered open bar, at least during the reception before guests are seated for dinner/presentation.

    But we're talking about events where the guests include John Henry, John Fish, and Bob Kraft. So no one is going to break up that party.

    up
    18

    Cup Size

    Spoke to someone at the Craft Beer festival about this last year, and my understanding from him is that if you serve the "samples" in a vessel 3 ounces or smaller it's allowed. If it's bigger than 3 ounces you have to use tickets...essentially sell them. I'm guessing this place was giving out beers/drinks in glasses larger than 3 ounces.

    I'm getting tired of techies

    I'm getting tired of techies thinking the law shouldn't apply to them. First, it was the "tech tax" which really just closed a loophole and made the sales tax apply the same it applies to everyone else. Now it is our booze laws. You aren't special snowflakes. If you want to live free or die then go move to the NH.

    up
    18

    Parity

    You're painting with a broad brush here. The Software Services tax didn't obviously close a loophole. What you see as "closing a loophole", someone else views as grabbing another 6% from his or her paycheck. Is there sales tax on the labor that a carpenter, a doctor, an electrician, or a lawyer sells in the state of MA? I write software for a living (albeit for a large company, so the act would have had essentially zero impact on me). The tax was oddly written with an obvious lack of acumen.

    On alcohol laws in Massachusetts: Have you lived outside of the state? The laws here are completely absurd. Sure, this isn't an excuse to flaunt the law, but I'm not going to assume bad faith. While I'm whining about the law: Why should a secondary market on liquor licenses exist? If the state had a legitimate interest in limiting the number of liquor licenses, they'd auction them off for a limited time. The system we have now is pure political patronage, on the same level as taxi medallions.

    up
    30

    State's interest

    If the state had a legitimate interest in limiting the number of liquor licenses they would be doing it for every single city and town in the state. What is absurd is that the city of Boston cannot determine on its own the appropriate number and cost for such a permit.

    When it costs $300,000+ just to obtain a liquor license what are the odds of someone getting one to open up a small restaurant in a residential neighborhood? The trend I have seen is that a dive bar in a neighborhood will close or lose its license and then the license moves downtown. There is plenty of room for full service restaurants in the outer neighborhoods of Boston but not when fighting over a limited supply of overvalued permits to sell drinks.

    http://www.masspack.org/pdfs/MA%20Mayors%20behind%20push%20for%20greater...

    up
    17

    Not quite

    The state does regulate the number of licenses in other communities - it just does it differently in Boston. Elsewhere, it's a certain number of licenses per 10,000 people, while in Boston, it's whatever number the legislature decides, based on a law enacted when the Brahmins wanted to stick it to the Irish who ran Boston (this is also why only Boston's liquor-licensing board is appointed by the governor, not locally).

    I'm not saying this means the current system is fair (it's not), but it's also why you don't see any Pottervilles in the rest of the state.

    Also, for what it's worth, the number of licenses in Boston has increased a bit over the past couple of years. Used to be, liquor licenses at Logan were part of the city's quota, but now Logan has one sort of master liquor license and the holders of the old licenses there have been allowed to sell them off, then get a new airport-specific license. It's how Delicias Domicanas on Hyde Park Avenue in Roslindale is getting a beer-and-wine license - by buying one from a Sbarro at the airport, which in turn is getting relicensed under the airport deal.

    up
    12

    Incorrect interpretation of the law

    Sales tax is on products. If I sell you software, then it's taxed. However, if I sell you my services to design and program customized software on your system to make your work processes run functionally better, that's not a product, it's a service. In fact, the end result may not even be software at all. The only "product" of my work might be to arrange and configure software you already have, which was already sales taxed when you bought it, in such a way that it works functionally better for you. However, the new law said any of those scenarios required me to collect sales tax from you.

    up
    21

    Not enough detail

    Would the Boston PD have shut down the party if there were details guarding it? Perhaps the government wise guys/gals who control the liquor flow in the city envy the opportunities to serve the city in overtime pay. Maybe they are just miffed that no one hired them for the expertise in assuring that the liquor flow was up to legal standards.

    up
    19

    Change is in the air; let's leverage it.

    Councilor Ayanna Pressley has been working through a Home Rule Petition to return authority of the liquor license process from the Commonwealth to the City of Boston. (Yes, the _state_ currently controls (limits) the number of liquor licenses granted to restaurants, etc., in the _city_.) In particular, part of her motivation is to enable "new business models" to flourish in Boston. The Petition is not a done deal yet, but she's got good momentum, and it represents good winds of change.

    It might be a good idea to get her to help look into the current regs on this, showing the absurdity of it, and maybe tackle this (either pre- or post-Petition). I'll work with Future Boston - who has been working with Councilor Pressley's office - to see if we can put this on the radar.

    up
    19

    More background

    Guilt's violation for the same offense back in 2011

    and

    A Boston Globe article from 2004 when the crackdown and "reinterpretation" of the rules went into effect by the ABCC.

    So, the ABCC took it upon itself 10 years ago to reinterpret the "private function" exception to not include tickets offered publicly for an open bar. I'm guessing the one portion of the ABCC guidelines that talks about an exception for "wine tastings" is broadly applied to all tastings which is why my initial question is legitimate behavior...but this party wasn't.

    I love one of the lines the ABCC wrote in their Guilt decision: "It remains the public policy of the Commonwealth, and the statutory duty of the Commission, to promote moderation and responsibility in the use of alcoholic beverages that is, in one word, temperance".

    Well, shit, let's just get them hatchets and call them the Carry Nation Commission. What will it take for someone to put the revocation of the ABCC's authority on the ballot?

    up
    16

    Amendment 21, US Bill of Rights

    Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

    Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

    Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

    According to Wikipedia:

    The second section bans the importation of alcohol in violation of state or territorial law. This has been interpreted to give states essentially absolute control over alcoholic beverages, and many U.S. states still remained "dry" (with state prohibition of alcohol) long after its ratification. Mississippi was the last, remaining dry until 1966;[6] Kansas continued to prohibit public bars until 1987.[7] Many states now delegate the authority over alcohol granted to them by this Amendment to their municipalities or counties (or both), which has led to many lawsuits over First Amendment rights when local governments have tried to revoke liquor licenses.

    In other words, the amendment has been interpreted to give states the power to regulate alcohol use, and, when that power has been delegated, local authority has been challenged in the courts. Not so simple to just devolve it to localities, apparently.

    This is why you have the

    This is why you have the ubiquitous 'drink ticket' loophole in operation at similar semi-public events. They can sell admission and grant some number of carnival-type tickets to attendees upon entry. The drinks are no longer 'free' in the technical sense, because you pay with your tickets, which you in theory pay for with your admission fee. Of course, it's a ridiculous loophole, and if you go to one of these parties you never having problems finding 'extra' tickets.

    What I want to know is what would stop someone from offering drinks at far below market rate, at say 25 cents each. Does the law have a provision regarding this?

    Certain Practices Prohibited

    Sorry Anon....the law does indeed have a provision preventing offering drinks at far below market rate.

    According to the ABCC regulations 204 CMR 4.00: PROHIBITION OF CERTAIN PRACTICES:

    (c) sell, offer to sell or deliver to any person or group of persons any
    drinks at a price less than the price regularly charged for such drinks
    during the same calendar week, except at private functions not open to
    the public;

    (d) sell, offer to sell or deliver to any person an unlimited number of
    drinks during any set period of time for a fixed price, except at private
    functions not open to the public;

    And yes, the venue should have known better:

    (2) No licensee shall advertise or promote in any way, whether within or
    without the licensed premises, any of the practices prohibited under 204 CMR
    4.03.

    Regarding Wine Tastings (and presumably beer too)

    204-4.04: Exceptions
    Nothing contained in 204 CMR 4.03 shall be construed to prohibit licensees from offering free food or entertainment at any time; or to prohibit licensees from including a drink as part of a meal package; or to prohibit the sale or delivery of wine by the bottle or carafe when sold with meals or to more than one person; or to prohibit those licensed under M.G.L. c. 138, s. 15, from offering free wine tastings; or to prohibit those licensed under M.G.L. c. 138, s. 12, from offering room services to registered guests.

    Venue should know better

    The venue that hosted the event bears most (if not all) of the responsibility for this, as they should know the (puritanical) rules. Though they also may not have been aware of how the event was marketed. Though they should be.

    Open bar is only allowed at a private function.

    - A private function is one with a host person or company who singularly pays for the event, and collects the guest list.

    - It cannot be advertized/offered to the general public with tickets sold through a third party.

    - The guest list must be maintained at the door, with only those on the guest list admitted and admission cannot be collected at the door.

    So IF one organization was the identified host, AND they solely invited the other companies but not the general public, and the host had paid the venue in lump some and presented a guest this - then this event would have been a legit private event and legal.

    It's annoying sure, but it can be made to work - venue and host just need to know the rules...

    up
    10

    OR

    We can be grown-ups and say that the party is semi-private and that's still allowed to have an open bar. The venue is the license holder and bears the ultimate responsibility but there's no reason the public can't be invited to pay a single charge and have an open bar for special events. Hell, make it mandatory that they ask permission first and pay a fee up-front (which they'll just distribute to the guests) for the costs associated with mopping up after the bad hosts who let the open bar get out of control and drunks end up on the street from their party. If their parties get too crazy, the venue gets shut down per the established whip-crackers that the city already has in control of such things.

    But to start the conversation with "we've decided for the greater good (THE GREATER GOOD) of 'temperance' that the public shall never be allowed access to an open bar...except in a bunch of circumstantial ways you made us have to allow by writing them into the law". We shouldn't have to work around that and the rules shouldn't be allowed to change by their authority and creative "interpretations" of what's written (checks and balances says that's the judiciary's job). We should reform this asinine code to better reflect the city we want to live in and not "make it work" with whatever the ABCC hands down when they are there to serve OUR purposes, not the other way around.

    Location