City cracks down on bars that don't serve food

The Boston Licensing Board is warning bars with food-serving licenses they better start serving up food with their booze.

Several bars across the city got warnings from the board this week after police detectives cited them for possessing food-serving licenses without serving food. At a series of hearings on Tuesday, a police detective testified that, in some cases, bar workers admitted they hadn't served food regularly in years.

At the hearings, bar owners and managers owned up and said they'd stopped serving food because their patrons would rather have food delivered to the bar from nearby restaurants - the Eagle on Tremont Street in the South End - or because the state ban on smoking killed their dinner business - the Drinking Fountain in Jamaica Plain.

All, however, said they would gladly bring in a microwave or fire up their existing hot-dog machines every night rather than just turning them on for special events such as football playoff games or private parties.

More hearings are scheduled for next week.



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So, Let Me Get This Straight...

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If the city issues you multiple licenses to sell different things, you are required by law to make sales of all those things or else the city gets its panties in a twist?

OK, that sounds like the usual around these parts. Just making sure we weren't anyplace sane.


Pretty much

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It's the same with liquor licenses, the difference being anybody can get a common victualer's license, while the number of liquor licenses is limited by state law.

It would be most interesting if somebody got cited for having a license for a large-screen TV (yes, of course you need a license for a large-screen TV) but not having the TV on.

But only above a certain size

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Above that size (40 inches, maybe?), it's considered an "entertainment device" that requires a hearing before the Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing (the other white meat, um, licensing board, except there's just one member). Also requiring hearings: cassette players (yep) or other playback devices, pool tables (because you know those mean trouble) and dancing.

Oh, and outdoor patios. Want to play music or show sporting events on those patios? That'll be two hearings, please, one before the licensing board and one before the Mayor's Office of Etc.

Not sure about disco balls, but I bet they're covered somewhere.

All sounds kind of silly, maybe, but in a city of close quarters, the idea is neighbors have a right to the "quiet enjoyment" of their homes, for example, the elderly people who live next door to those clubs on Warrenton. And that's why outdoor patios, even without music, typically have earlier closing times than the restaurants they're attached to.

Adam, I disagree with your last point

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Couldn't the City achieve roughly the same outcome - i.e. the enforcement of "quiet enjoyment" for neighbors - simply by enforcing noise ordinances?

Serving food is usually a condition

Usually, a condition on getting a liquor license is that you serve food. I think this is because people/neighbors don't want a pure barroom in the neighborhood, and serving food gives the place a sense of class. I'm not 100% sure of this, but I have heard it before.

Now, I'm not sure what constitutes serving food, and it may be thoroughly explained in legal docs. Does a big bottle of pork hocks sitting on the bar constitute serving food? Or a bottle of pickled hard-boiled eggs? Maybe steamed dogs?

Steamed dogs, definitely

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Not so a vending machine that sells bags of pretzels and potato chips, at least, based on the hearings on Tuesday.

I really hope the Tam does

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I really hope the Tam does not have a food license. And they should definitely be counted for having pizza and burritos and chinese available within about 100 feet!

Want some Ice Cream?

As I recently learned, you need a license in MA to sell milk or any milk products such as ice cream, butter, etc. You need such a license even if you are a normal restaurant with all the other certification it entails. Little Sally wants a glass of milk? Get the paperwork ready.

I wonder if there are any "ice cream parlors" which are currently under review because all the locals know they are nothing but a hot dog stand.

Edit: Just looked up the law. Don't mess with Milk licenses. The first violation gets you a $10 fine. The second violation gets you a $50 fine. But sell that third glass of milk without a license and you're going to jail for not less then a month!


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I was getting ready to defend the statute (I really, really don't want milk being served with no one monitoring the refrigeration), but then I dived into the actual statute and found this gem:

Whoever in such a town engages in the business of selling milk or cream from any vehicle for household deliveries shall display conspicuously on the outside of each vehicle so used the name and principal place of business of the licensee in Gothic letters not less than one and one-half inches in height.

You can have my sans-serif fonts when you pry them from my cold, dead hands, Massachusetts milk inspectors.

They know

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The owners of the establishments know the rules when they apply for these licenses. Tough shit if they don't like it now.

Not to be nit-picky, but....

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Is it the City or state? Isn't the Boston Licensing Board a state agency, or has that changed?

City/state cooperation at its finest

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You're correct: The Boston Licensing Board is a state board, its members appointed by the governor. But the Boston Police Department licensing unit, which is assigned to the board, and which conducts inspections of bars and restaurants, is 100% municipal.

The smoking ban killed their

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The smoking ban killed their dinner business? Seems implausible to me. After all the smoking ban didn't kill their bar business. And every other jurisdiction which has enacted a smoking ban in restaurants has seen a moderate increase in restaurant business. Turns out that the number of people put off by smoke fumes when they eat is greater than the number of smokers who can't wait until after dinner to puff up.

You might want to take a visit to the place

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As the owners told the board, the type of people who might want to eat there enjoyed a smoke with or after their meals. We're not talking some fancy South End or even Centre Street restaurant here.

but they'll go for drinks? I

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but they'll go for drinks? I don't buy that. I can't imagine someone who can't be bothered to walk outside for a smoke during a meal is somehow ok with it when they are drinking, chatting and watching a game or whatever.

Let's recap

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The place is called the Drinking Fountain.

Love the place, but...

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Love the place, but even when they put out the steam trays for their St. Patrick's Day celebration (last year's contained green pulled pork, and there was some question as to the source of the green color), ain't no way I'm going near their food.

no doubt, that's the name

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no doubt, that's the name alright, i've been there. What I'm saying is that I think the smoking ban line is BS.... their customers didn't want to eat where they can't smoke (hence they stopped serving food), but didn't mind drinking where they can't smoke. Don't get me wrong, I love the place, but I'm calling bullshit on their defense

I'm INCREDIBLY skeptical. As

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I'm INCREDIBLY skeptical. As I said it didn't kill their bar business. The type of clientele they have MUST smoke with their meal but doesn't care about smoking with their booze? And as I said, every other jurisdiction which has instituted a smoking ban has seen bar and restaurant business increase. Surveys done after the fact indicate that even smokers end up largely liking the smoking bans because they can go out to the bar and not come back reeking of cigarette smoke. And at dinner they can taste their food better. I'm highly skeptical that their clientele is so uniquely wedded to puffing up between forkfuls of food that they rejected efforts to serve food there. As if only "fancy" South End restaurants had people who want to go out to dinner without getting lung cancer.

What if...

What about having a menu available for the asking, but nobody would dare ask for it, out of fear of what the food would be like - even if those fears are unfounded?

There are a lot of bars in Boston where I'd be happy to drink but fearful of the food, and those are often the best bars!

Punters Pub

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Nobody has said that anybody has to eat the food, just that the bars have to have the food available.

And I'm with you on that.

What about a place like the Punters Pub on Huntington (Is that the name? It's been years.)? If I recall, they don't have food, but there is (or was) a cut through to the pizza place next door. Grab a pie, order some beers, and you were in for a good night. Is that now against the (enforced) rule?

Punters Pub

The pizza place was still there as of last year. I would say that would exempt that bar from the food requirement. It shows they are going out of their way to get food into the place.

(One of the all time greatest dive bars in Boston)

Do all bars in Boston have to

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Do all bars in Boston have to serve food? Are they just trying to kill all the dive bars? I, for one, would never want to eat anything besides potato chips at the Drinking Fountain, but I do enjoy a drink there now and again.

And hot dogs - eeww, that creates air as bad as cigarettes.

my favorite dives

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I always wondered why some of my favorite dives had those hot-dog machines. If I remember right, "My Brother's Place" (now Viga) near Park Plaza actually sold a lot of hot dogs. Pete's Tavern (it has a new name; in the building between Quincy Market and the Greenway) had a hot-dog machine that looked like it hadn't been turned on in years.

Food and absorption of alcohol

I think the reasoning behind this rule is that if people eat food with their drinks, the absorption of alcohol is reduced and therefore people are less likely to become drunk.

Sure, that's logical, but

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Sure, that's logical, but aren't we often going to a bar to become drunk? It doesn't really make sense. Puritan Boston!

I go to a bar to get tipsy

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I go to a bar to get tipsy not drunk. I order something to eat so I don't get drunk and don't get a hangover. To each his own.

You are correct

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You are correct, sir. And this is the obvious reasoning for the same type of food/alcohol ratio requirements
across jurisdictions nationwide. A simple effort to preserve the peace and to also lessen the burden on law enforcement. The commenters on this board are usually a savvy and smart lot, surprised it seems to have been overtaken by the Boston dot com crowd.

Seems perfectly reasonable to

Seems perfectly reasonable to me. They were given a license that required them to serve food. They don't serve food. There's s difference between a bar that serves burgers and a bar that serves Bud - and only Bud. If you don't like it, talk to Mumbles.


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My understanding is that you can get a liquor license that lets you just serve alcohol or one that requires you to serve food with it. For example, if you go to Myung Dong in Allston they will tell you that you must order some food with alcohol, even if it's just something small and snacky, because of the license they have. Sure, it's kind of silly that some places have one type of license and others another but I think it goes back to allowing some control of the number of pure bars vs restaurants that serve alcohol. Sounds like some places have taken advantage of the system to get a license that requires food even through they don't really intend on being a restaurant.

Not to mention

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Licenses exist for beer (and liquor) but no food. See: Brendan Behan in Jamaica Plain.

New York City had a similar rule

I had previously read somewhere that back in the day bars were required to serve food to patrons if they wanted to stay open. So they would have some kind of token sandwich sitting around that nobody would ever dare eating. Basically it was just a display piece if you wanted to stay open. Sorry, don't have the link it's and it's driving me nuts that I can't find.

I did find a somewhat relevant story, here's a NYTimes piece discussing the difference between bars and taverns in CT.