No wonder outer neighborhoods are losing liquor licenses: New York chef pays $410,000 for Oak Square tavern's license

Mario Batali will pay $410,000 for the liquor license of the closed Castlebar on Washington Street so he can serve libations to patrons of his planned wood-fired pizza place on the South Boston waterfront

Batali's attorney, Joseph Hanley, told the Boston Licensing Board that Batali will spend $2.5 million in total to outfit his planned Babbo on Fan Pier.

As required, Hanley answered the question of the public need for the new restaurant: He said the Innovation District is attracting innovators, who need an innovative restaurant in which to eat.

He noted the construction of a new residential tower right next door to the office building in which Babbo would be located. Although the area already has a number of high-end restaurants, Babbo would be the first with wood-fired pizza.

He said the restaurant would have about 210 seats, with 22 more seats in an outdoor patio, and that it would serve food right up until its 2 a.m. closing time.

Hanley added that Boston's "culinary community" is excited by the prospect of Batali's first Boston restaurant and that it would help cement Boston's growing reputation as a culiinary hotspot.

The board votes tomorrow on whether to approve the request, which was supported by the mayor's office and several city councilors.

Last month, the proposed operators of a Korean fusion restaurant across from Faneuil Hall Maketplace spent $425,000 for an all-alcohol license.



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but but but i thought deval

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but but but i thought deval and marty were gonna make liquor licenses easy to get?!?!?! what happen?!


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And this is why small

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And this is why small business owners are unable to open restaurants/bars in Boston, and why my neighborhood in Roxbury will always be at best a sleeper community. No one wants to spend nearly half a million dollars on a liquor license and take a chance on an up and coming area that is clearly underserved as far as dining options go. When outsiders come in with that kind of money from investors, they'll stick to the Waterfront or somewhere downtown. If you're a local potential small business owner and operator who is willing to risk opening a business in your own neighborhood, you can't buy a liquor license in the open market. And you can't survive in the restaurant business without alcohol; it's where nearly all of your profits come from.

This is why I am dying for Boston to come up with a better solution than what they have done so far in getting NEW liquor licenses for neighborhoods that don't have many dining options.

Actually, that bill's now law

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There were multiple versions of liquor license reform bill kicking around in the House and Senate--the one that actually made it onto the Gov's desk was an amendment in the economic development bill, signed into law on Aug. 14, but has those same provisions.

Restaurants can apply to the Boston licensing board for the first 25 licenses, of which 20 will be kept in specific neighborhoods such as Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park, beginning Sept 1.


It explains three things, actually

1) The accelerating disappearance of great neighborhood Old Man Bars (RIP, the Quencher and many others);

2) The fact that most of our most talented local indie chefs now choose to set up shop in Cambridge and Somerville; and

3) The Boston restaurant scene's increasing number of crappy but deep-pocketed national and regional chain restaurants (looking at you, Seaport, and nearly every damnable luxury steakhouse in town).

Our idiotic liquor licensing setup is a pox on Boston's restaurant and bar scene.

I didn't realize this until I

I didn't realize this until I moved to Brighton a month ago, but I think the root of this is that people want food with their liquor more than ever and places that don't have a kitchen can't hold up. It's sad for Castlebar, Joeys, etc but great dives can survive with a menu. At least the Last Drop and Irish village and the Lincoln are still there.

Tell me that you at least had

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Tell me that you at least had a hamburger , heavily onioned. In my extensive experience with taverns ( they had 6 day licenses, no women allowed , or at least no lady's room ) , gin mills, drinking joints , bars , not be confused with restaurants, the Irish Village , even the one pre-remodel , got 5 stars. I wouldn't call it a restaurant, that would be the Stockyard down the street.One is for drinking , one is for eating. The hamburger served to let you drink more.Revere is our friend , but they had some run down seen better days type joints at the beach.Try there .expand your horizons. Last time I was there, one joint had the old trough urinal, just like Fenway Park.

Nope, I've never experienced

Nope, I've never experienced the food there, nor knew they served food. I've only been there for the end of the night but it looks like I should try it.

My Revere go to is always the Boulevard. Crazy cheap pitchers, salty staff and patrons and a bar band that does all my requests. A+

Sammy's Patio Lounge has a

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Sammy's Patio Lounge has a pizza joint next door with a pass through hole to the bar. If you are going to drink , you have to eat. Not sure if the have a band , maybe a juke box. Maybe they have Freddy Fender's Wasted Days and Wasted Nights, good drinking song.

I've lived 50 yards from the Irish Village for 10 years

And I've probably been in no more than like 10 times. No food = no dice.

I have friends who like Joey's, and I went to their closing night with them for a bit. Yeah, not really people with whom I want to drink. I'm sure they're nice folks who pay their taxes, but yeah.

The Irish Village actually

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The Irish Village actually has a fairly substantial craft beer selection, at very good prices. You'd have to go as far as Deep Ellum to see a better selection. Definitely not a 'dive'.

When I want a drink I much

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When I want a drink I much prefer a bar that doesn't have food like JPs Brendan Beehan or even just very limited like the Harpoon tasting room with their pretzels. Its a different atmosphere when people are just hanging out talking and drinking than eating, and its nice to have both options and sad we seem to be losing the former.

The good thing about

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The good thing about Castlebar is they would let you bring food in. I would order a pizza and wings at the pizza place next door and watch the game at CB.

You do realize

The price of a liquor license in Cambridge and Somerville are not much behind the price of Boston?

Actually Cambridge isn't

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Actually Cambridge isn't restricted in number like Boston, nor is it beholden to the state, so they can award new licenses to whomever they deem appropriate.

Right, except

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They do limit the number licenses in certain areas, like Harvard Square.

But it's a self-imposed limit

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But it's a self-imposed limit.

And they keep it a secret. The License Commission website doesn't list the cap areas or limits.

Actually I am not

They are not worth what Batali paid for it. The going rate is about $275K-$300K. Except for Back Bay which is about $425K. I can't explain why he paid that high.

Corbett has one listed for $300K
Charlie Perkins was selling recently in the 275K range.

The trendline is clear, especially for the desirable licenses in

neighborhoods like Back Bay and the Seaport. Are they worth it? Good question. I don't imagine Batali doesn't have an army of MBAs doing the risk assessment there. The guy doesn't lose money very often.

But don't take my word for it: look at the type of restaurants that are opening on either side of the river. The good ones are looking at the startup costs, of which the liquor license looms as first or second: look where they're going.

Celeb chef or bullshit national or regional chain? Boston. Talented local chef trying to chef-own, or maybe do a second indie? Camberville. There are exceptions, like Asta, Liquid Art House, Tavern Road, and Shojo, but over the Charles, there's Bondir, Sarma, Alden & Harlow, La Brasa, Bronwyn, Abbey Cambridge, State Park, Commonwealth, Giulia, Puritan & Co., West Bridge, Catalyst, Kirkland, Casa B, Journeyman. I'm sure I'm missing some. Not really a contest.


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It's does an independent chef in Boston come up with the $ to open a new place here? Instead we get another retread Bay bay restaurant group spot, or a national chain. Cambridge here I come.

Not sure what you mean , to

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Not sure what you mean , to clarify , Neil was the original owner of the Stockyard.
"The Stockyard was established in 1972 by the late Cornelius “Neil” Manning and his wife, Lillian. The Mannings built the restaurant to reflect a unique atmosphere blending local charm in a distinguished setting. Adding to the 40+ years of Stockyard history is the infamous Chicago gangster, Al Capone’s, original bar, whose pieces occupy the foyer and private Tavern room. The Mannings purchased the bar in the late 1970’s."

Not quite

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I mean, if you're profitable, then being an Old Man Bar isn't going to accelerate your disappearance just because someone's looking to buy a license at high dollar value. Because you're still making a profit.

If you start taking a loss or drop in profitability, it *is* going to accelerate your decision-making process on how long you'd like to float the loss while trying to turn yourself around. Why are you going to possibly sink $100,000 into a just-beginning-to-fail business when you can GAIN $400,000 immediately by selling the license and closing up shop. It puts a HUGE differential into play that makes the decisions much more one-sided. However, at the end of the day, you were still a failing business in the beginning of a downhill slog to find your bottom as you retool to start rising again.

That's the killer to high license values. There's no chance for a previously successful business to reinvent/retool/improve and return to former glory in its neighborhood. It's a LOT easier to give up and sell-out for more than you likely owe or have amortized already by being profitable long enough and take the money and run. Nobody's going to gamble losing tens of thousands to turn a place around when dumping and running is turning a huge profit even if it means your neighborhood suffers the loss while Batali gets to play in the new Richie Rich/tourist/innovation/convention playground.

The Quencher

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Best location ever as it was halfway home for me on most occasions. But I'm no spring chicken and more often than not I was the youngest person in the place, a dangerous position to be in as young man is the prey of the cougar.

Unfortunately for places like the Quencher, they just can't compete with Stats and the Lincoln. Young people want to be out and be seen, experience better quality and have choices beyond those offered at old school places. These days you have to reinvent yourself every season, not every generation.

Can't survive?

you can't survive in the restaurant business without alcohol; it's where nearly all of your profits come from.

What about all the sub shops, cheap Chinese take out, diners, breakfast joints and so on?

The liquor issue seems to be a problem for status platforms and preening zoos where people eat in public with others in odd display rituals that impose medieval servility on the hapless hospitality staffs and mask the mediocrity and crappy food prices with intangibles like atmosphere and generous pours.

I don't know what to make of those things. If they all went 'poof', we'd probably find more edifying ways to waste money and impress dates.

It might be fun to see what new conspicuous display and ostentation rituals would spring up to supplant this archaic crap.

As for Cambridge and how it handles the booze drill, it seems to resemble New Hampshire.

They let places have a simple beer and wine option or full liquor in some kind of tier arrangement.

They also seem to mentor places they like and have special provisional serving licenses that are time specific.

The Lilypad, for example, is phasing toward some sort of pouring status with interim steps.

I bet full weed legalization will change a lot of the intoxicant and food formula concepts.

Instead of booze fueled chest pounding, you'd get shiny happy people chowing space cakes or something with chai.

Maybe it will help us mature to finally be weaned from organic solvents in favor of more subtle satisfactions.


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The sub shops, cheap chinese places, etc aren't paying the same rent, labor costs, etc that a "restaurant" is paying.

Yeah I know.

That's the thing, it is a kind of vanity industry at the end of the day.

It isn't 'need driven' in quite the same way as a load of grease hangover breakfast or a killer fish sub .

So you end up with all these expensive trappings and obnoxious dances with city officials over stuff that layers in several other problems like policing booze.

So the places that basically aim to feed you and often serve their own immigrant community aren't going to sink or swim over booze. The data points to a more stripped down and focused approach.

And public craving for this small food authenticity is so notable that people will form Saturday breakfast lines over places that seem to have it.

So this more grandiose restaurant thing becomes a kind of urban theater scene with cuisine as a script.

I've worked in restaurants and was a wine salesman. I know the drill.

You're all missing the obvious

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Just get rid of the license cartel. It's total garbage, simple as that. 75 new licenses with more restrictions isn't a solution, throwing the bribery system out is.