Used to be, guests checking into the West End hotel would be offered a complimentary flute of sparkling Spanish wine with their room keys.
The practice ended Aug. 13, when Boston Police detectives issued the hotel a citation for violating a state law banning free booze.
The Boston Licensing Board decides Thursday whether to punish the hotel - or whether to accept the hotel's argument that that free-alcohol thing prohibition only applies to restaurant and bar happy hours, which have been banned since the Dukakis era.
Attorney William F. Coyne, Jr., who represents both the hotel and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, told a skeptical board Chairwoman Nicole Murati Ferrer that the drinks were not, technically, free, even though guests did not pay for them, because the hotel kept accounts of the drinks and paid state liquor-sales taxes on every one of them.
He said this contrasted to happy hours in which bars and restaurants competed to see how many free drinks they could load patrons up with. And he said that his review of decisions by the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission showed not a single one involving a situation in which a hotel dole out a single drink to a guest on check in, and that decisions involving free drinks all involved happy hours."
Ferrer didn't buy his argument for a second. Although the ABCC regulations are titled as pertaining to "happy hours," she said no free drinks means no free drinks, period. She noted that the ABCC's own Web site specifically states:
Can a bar, restaurant, or hotel offer a free drink?
No. A bar, restaurant or hotel cannot offer any free drinks. However, a bar, restaurant, or hotel can include a drink as part of a meal package under certain circumstances.
A hotel official said that until the board or the ABCC says otherwise, guests are now offered a free, non-alcoholic drink when they register.
The board makes its decision Thursday.