North End restaurants under siege: Owners, councilors say neighborhood losing diners to Waterfront eateries selling hard liquor

Cantina Italiana in Boston's North End

Chianti no longer enough, North End restaurants say.

A series of hearings on licenses to serve all kinds of liquor today turned into something of a battle between the North End, where restaurants that traditionally serve nothing harder than aperitifs want to up their game and the South Boston waterfront, where lawyers say more hard-liquor licenses are desperately needed to quench the thirsts of the thousands of new residents, workers and visitors flooding the once desolate area.

Because of a quirk in a 2014 law that gave Boston new liquor licenses, the Boston Licensing Board entered the year with 10 "unrestricted" all-alcohol licenses to award. These licenses not only let their holders serve anything from Bud Light to $4,000 bottles of Scotch, but instantly become assets worth upwards of $300,000 that can be used to borrow money - and which can be sold off if the holders go out of business.

The board has already awarded some of the 10 licenses - last week, the board awarded all-alcohol licenses to Fuji, which plans a Japanese restaurant in the Ink Block development in the South End, Cunard Tavern on Orleans Street in East Boston and Piattini, an Italian restaurant on Newbury Street that wanted to move up from its current beer-and-wine license. Some 11 applicants made their cases today - all but one from either the North End or the South Boston Waterfront/Fort Point areas.

City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who represents the North End, supported all five of the requests from North End restaurants for all-alcohol licenses - four from existing restaurants that can serve beer and wine and one from a proposed new place on Hanover Street.

LaMattina said the beer and chianti that long sufficed for the little restaurants of the North End are no longer cutting it with today's hard-charging diners. "Today people are avoiding the North End" and going to the Seaport because they know the restaurants there can serve up the martinis and other adult beverages.

Phil Frattaroli, who wants to replace the beer and wine license he has at his Ducali pizza place on Causeway Street with an all-alcohol license, said he's felt the loss of diners in his bottom line - last year was the first time total receipts shrank rather than grew, he told the board.

Gary Pappas, a North End resident who is also a retired commanding general of the Massachusetts National Guard, said he no longer books as many affairs at another all-alcohol applicant - Cantina Italiana on Hanover Street - because attendance kept dropping as people demanded harder drinks.

At-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George also rose to support the application by Cantina Italiana, which opened in 1931, making it the neighborhood's oldest operating restaurant, and which actually had an all alcohol license until 2001, when its owners transferred the license to another restaurant they own. Not only are the owners good people, but they're indicative of the "food and culture of Boston's Little Italy," that is starting to be threatened by both the waterfront and the area around North Station, she said.

William Ferrullo, attorney for Frank DePasquale, owner of Mare on Mechanic Court, said the restaurant deserves a full-liquor license because it's on the Freedom Trail, in a neighborhood that is visited by more people than any other in the city.

Warren Mustachio told the board he really doesn't need a full-liquor license for the Ben Cotto pizza place he's been trying to open at 361 Hanover St., because all he wants to do is serve beer and wine. But he applied for one because they were available, unlike beer-and-wine licenses, and pleaded for the board's help, because he's a fifth-generation North End resident, he's put his life savings into the restaurant and he's been paying rent on the empty space for two years now.

Victor Bragna, who oversees licensing issues for the North End Waterfront Residents Association, asked the board to defer any action on the requests, because none had come before his group.

Waterfront applicants did not address the North End issue, instead pointing to the vast amounts of construction going on along the waterfront and Fort Point as the public need for more liquor in the area.

Aloft Lounge, which hasn't even opened yet, wants to upgrade the beer-and-wine license it has for 401 D St. to a full license. Lawyer Karen Simao said the initial 230 seats would be upgraded to 300 now that the operators realize just how bustling the area is becoming. Proponents made similar arguments for the proposed Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar at 253 Summer St. and the proposed Tuscan Kitchen at 53 Northern Ave. Backers of the proposed three-level Scorpion Bar and Restaurant/The Grand at 25 Northern Ave. said the large space would prove vital for all the waterfront companies that need a place for private functions.

Also up for consideration: A liquor license for the Yotel hotel at 65 Seaport Blvd., which will feature $200-a-night rooms called "cabins" because they're designed to look like ship's cabins.

The board considers all the requests tomorrow. Members will decide which of the applications will fill a "public need," then dole out licenses based on the order in which the board received them. Applicants who don't get one can try to buy one on the open market - or try their luck next year, when the board will get the authority to issue five more unrestricted licenses.

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Comments

Can someone explain to me why

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Can someone explain to me why the City is giving liquor licenses with a resale value of approximately $3 million to wealthy restaurateurs who own multiple establishments (google the names mentioned) for $3000 each while giving small businesses in poorer areas liquor licenses with no resale value?

You are letting the City off

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You are letting the City off the hook too easily. The Licensing Board devised this corrupt process and they are the ones deciding who gets the licenses. What would have been wrong with a lottery? Or how about giving priority to people who don't own multiple establishments or don't have hundreds of seats? And don't forget that the legislation was a joint effort between the City Council and the Legislature. Not to mention that the major opponents of freeing up licenses are the big guys who own multiple licenses already, and are now the objects of the City's largesse.

Yes, the board members are the ones giving out licenses

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That's what they're there for. But Ayanna Pressley started pushing for more licenses for Boston in 2012, when we had a completely different licensing board, so it's a bit ridiculous to blame the current members for that. Also, you may recall she wanted to end the cap on liquor licenses in Boston; it was the legislature that bowed to the current license holders and set a limit of 75 new licenses for Boston, not the council. And that's why I suggested you ask your legislators.

I will grant, you, however, that the musical chairs for the ten licenses at issue was kind of rigged, in the sense that the only people who knew about it were the high-priced lawyers, who were able to get their clients to apply at the very beginning of the year, the sort of lawyers your basic start-up pizza place in Hyde Park wouldn't be hiring (in fact, I didn't know about it until a lawyer who happens to read my licensing stuff told me about it).

Ayanna is a joke

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She supported the Hilton in East Boston to get one of these liquor licenses for the poor / low income communities. It's supposed to go to small business, but again...her pockets are deep. Don't trust her.

???

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The others went to Maverick Marketplace, and East Boston Kitchen which unfortunately shuttered. While the Hilton is a big chain, it employs quite a few people in the neighborhood, and keeps thirsty travelers in East Boston.

You're making it sound like the Hilton was Eastie's representative in a liquor license raffle.

Public need

What a (expletive) farce. It's not a water license. It's not a shelter license. It's an alcohol license. Nobody needs alcohol. We want it. And we should have it. And every restaurant cited here should sell it.

but then

how would this bureaucracy sustain itself?

this council seems to be the only one allowed to be drunk.

drunk

WITH POWER

Farce is the right word. Phil

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Farce is the right word. Phil Frattaroli of Ducali also owns the Cunard Tavern in East Boston.

Survey;

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Have you ever decided which restaurant to attend based on them having hard liquor or not? I like beer, wine and liquor as much as the next person, but don't recall ever basing my dining decisions on the availability of scotch or martinis.

Survey: have you ever made your dining plans based on availability of a certain type of booze?

Yes: I can't eat without a Cosmo beforehand
No: I like getting drunk, but wine is fine.

I will honestly say that yes,

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I will honestly say that yes, I have made the decision to not go to a restaurant because they did not serve liquor. I enjoy wine and beer as much as the next guy, but I can buy a bottle of just about any beer or wine and enjoy it at home. With a cocktail, I get something crafted from 4 or 5 ingredients that would cost me $100+ if purchased on their own. Call me a lush, but I much prefer a restaurant with a full bar.

I prefer

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scotch..so yes

Boston restaurants

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Boston only has restaurants that serve Italian food? Strange...

My wife is allergic to wine.

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And doesn't drink beer so, yes.

If we know a place only has beer & wine we'll more often then not pass it over.

I'm sure I'm in the minority, but it does happen.

I determine where I'm dining

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I determine where I'm dining out based on the kind of food I want to eat that night first and foremost; then the price, and then the atmosphere: high energy and crowded or chilled out. If I'm going out for a whiskey, I pick a bar / restaurant which has a good list and fair prices. If I I'm going out for cocktails then it's based on places that have decent bartenders.

I choose A restaurant by its food; a bar by its hard liquor

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Beverages are secondary. If the food at the restaurant goes well (in my book) with beer (sushi, pub grub) or wine (Italian, French) then beer/wine is just fine with me.

The only time I care about hard liquor is if I'm primarily going out to drink (i.e., at a bar that happens to serve food) if that makes any sense. (hiccup)

It's not about whether us

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It's not about whether us patrons need a stiff drink but the restaurateurs ability to make more profit by having a wider selection of alcohol. All alcohol drinks are the real profit centers at restaurants. Those who don't imbibe also benefit by having the price of the entrees partially offset by the profit from drinks.

It's a pretty good system unless you limit liquor licenses and artificially inflate its value whose cost is passed onto customers.

Lets be honest

75% of the restaurants in the North End are mediocre at best and way over priced.

You pay a premium for the location and some old guy complaining about immigrants speaking foreign languages while conversing with friends and family in Italian.

Maybe if they offered better food they would do better.

Italians

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You basically describe a good portion of the Italians on the East Boston Open Discussion Facebook page. Unless the ones in the North End are a different breed, I believe it.

The US did an excellent job indoctrinating the first generation of Italian immigrants that their non-English speaking parents and grandparents were somehow wrong for not learning English at 30+ years old, and they passed this learned xenophobia onto their 2nd and 3rd generation.

It goes beyond this as well. Of the many first-born, and immigrants of Hispanic descent I've spoken with in EB, the welcome was very, very unkind. Stories of people being assaulted in the 1990s because of their ethnicity, to kids who grew up attending all of their school friends' Italian events and festivals, without any reciprocity ever. Seriously, go to any Latin-themed events in the area (Pupusa Mania hopefully is on the docket again this year), and you won't run out of fingers on your left hand counting all the Italians in attendance.

So TL;DR version: I'm inclined to believe your story is genuine.

It was extremely challenging

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It was extremely challenging for immigrants during those years, and that probably informs there viewpoint on a lot of things, not that it's easy more recently.

While your description of the

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While your description of the challenges faced by earlier immigrants is fairly well documented, it wouldn't immediately be obvious at the modern events that you are talking about what ethnicity someone is. It sounds like you need to stop stereotyping on some level because most of those earlier immigrant groups have long since assimilated. They don't all live in little communities anymore, people have moved out to the suburbs with other groups.

You do not

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know what ethnicity Bull Detector is. Perhaps he is one of the targeted "immigrants speaking foreign languages" and feels he has been a victim of racism in these restaurants.

Let's REALLY be honest.

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75% of all restaurants are overpriced and mediocre at best.

And I'm not sure wtf that has to do with liquor licenses?

Never overheard the

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Never overheard the derogatory remarks you're claiming is commonly uttered by older Italian-Americans in the North End. It's so easy to throw out accusations of bigotry these days with absolutely no proof to back claims of hate speech. Smearing reputations one anonymous post, tweet or Facebook post at a time seems to be a trendy hobby at the moment.

People drink, and restaurants

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People drink, and restaurants need to make money. There should be some sort of health and regulation aspect to it (I guess) but otherwise you should be able to sell liquor if you want. In any event give it a few years, once casinos are here there'll be a trickle down effect and we'll get things like happy hour and such

Adam nailed this.

If you want change, change the law. Every one of those business should be on an even playing field. The current state controlled environment pits neighborhoods and small business against one another. A full license means more revenue but more liability and costs. Let the business decide whether it can swing it and let the city or town manage enforcement.

Why do we even have two types

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Why do we even have two types of liquor licenses? It really should be all or nothing in terms of what a place can serve.

And there shouldn't be a cap on licenses either.

If a restaurant has issues with drunk patrons, serving to minors, etc, their license should be suspended or revoked.

The whole situation is just so ridiculous and a giant waste of time.