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Not all councilors loving the idea of BYOB

City Councilors Ayanna Pressley (at large) and Bill Linehan (South Boston, South End, Chinatown) both say they love the idea of increasing the number of restaurants that can serve alcohol in Boston, but both are saying they have major concerns about a proposal by Councilors Michelle Wu and Steve Murphy to let smaller eateries offer BYOB service.

Pressley came at the proposal from lower end of the economic spectrum, saying she's concerned the measure could create BYOB-only districts in places such as Mattapan, Roxbury and Hyde Park, when the real answer is to increase the number of full liquor licenses available in those neighborhoods. Pressley was the main backer of a successful effort to increase the number of liquor licenses in certain Boston neighborhoods - although she really wanted to end the cap on licenses altogether.

At a council meeting yesterday, Pressley said she's also concerned about the potential impact on waitstaff: Since customers would bring their own bottles, servers might not see much in the way of the sort of tips that servers at restaurants with liquor licenses would see.

Linehan echoed Pressley's concern, but also approached the issue from the rentier perspective. He said he's worried about the impact on restaurants in his district - and in places such as Allston/Brighton - that have "enormous" six-figure investments in liquor licenses with prices artificially pushed skyward by state limits on their numbers. He said he's worried those investments could evaporate if competitors could let just any customer walk in with a bottle. Under state law, only restaurants without a liquor license can offer BYOB in communities that allow it.

The council agreed to hold a hearing on the Wu/Murphy proposal before deciding what to do about it.

Ed. note: I originally wrote Pressley was worried about creating "BYOB ghettos." That wasn't a direct quote from her and it made it sound like she was saying BYOB permits would drag neighborhoods down, which is not what she said. I've changed the wording in that section of the post.

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He said he's worried about the impact on restaurants in his district - and in places such as Allston/Brighton - that have "enormous" six-figure investments in liquor licenses

It's a good point, and it's analogous to über and taxi medallions. I'd love BYOB restaurants, and I love calling cars on my phone, but if you take all of the affected constituencies into account it's a complex issue.

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One of the most intelligent things I've read on here. Really, thank you.

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Just like all investments, the price you pay for a liquor license (or a medallion) is adjusted by the risk that the value may be diluted in the future. Those Allston establishments have *already been compensated* for the loss of value because they purchased the license at a lower price than would have been the case had there been no mechanism for increasing the number of licenses or BYOB locations. They can certainly advocate on their own behalf, but let's not pretend that a) this is out of left field or b) this isn't something the market hasn't accounted for.

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It's a complex issue and should be approached carefully, but we shouldn't feel obligated to perpetuate a broken system just because a fix isn't easy.

The City Council is responsible to the public in general, not any one set of investors in particular. The public bears the cost of the six-figure liquor license market value. And the majority of Bostonians, who don't live in high-wealth neighborhoods, are hurt additionally by the migration of licenses away from their communities.

We can't continue a policy that hurts the many just because of the existing investments of a few. What we can do, as others have suggested, is to ease the impact of diminishing liquor license value by phasing new licenses in over time (or implement middle-ground solutions such as BYOB) rather than just ending the current system all at once.

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required to ensure that peoples investments pay out or guarantee a monopoly to license holders. They took that risk when they purchased their licenses/medallions/etc.

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- Restaurants aren't obligated to allow BYOB so they aren't going to be forced to deal with anything. The waitstaff and owners would rather have CUSTOMERS rather then empty seats and they can still charge a "bottle opening fee" to recoup dealing with BYOB. But their tips can only go up since people don't stop ordering food when they BYOB.

- Somehow BOYB would create boozy hangouts but real liquor licenses would not?

- I see they played the always entertaining argument that because one person spent a lot of money we as a society need to ensure they get good return on their investment. Should we also refund condo buyers if the market drops?

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1. It would create a BYOB ghetto? Say what? I'm sure those establishments in lower income areas would love liquor licenses, but in the interim, I'm sure they'd be quite happy to have more customers...and the way to get more customers is to allow them to have a drink with dinner. Even if they have to bring the wine/beer themselves.

2. Yes, the bills at these restaurants wouldn't be as high as those actually serving alcohol, but guess what, the bills would be the same as they are now without a license or the ability to BYOB. Another dumb excuse.

3. So rather than worrying about citizens that would like more dining (where they can have a drink) options, or those small business owners that can't afford a license, Linehan is worried about those who already have licenses. That should tell you all you need to know about him. I'm 100% sure there is no wording on the license that guarantees that your investment in said license will never decline. Should the government banned satellite/internet TV to support the licenses given to cable TV companies? Evolve or die. If the value of your license declines, make better food.

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I just got back from Pittsburgh where I ate in a very nice Korean restaurant in a very nice neighborhood, and the place had BYOB. It was hardly "ghetto."

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Matt, your key phrase is "very nice neighborhood". Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester are not "very nice neighborhoods", albeit some parts are. I am pro BYOB but I am also realistic and aware of the potential consequences having BYOB in these neighborhoods may cause. By the way does anyone know how much the "bottle opening fee" would be?

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Since you don't seem to know much about the commercial districts in those neighborhoods.

To answer your corkage question, that hasn't been set, if it even would be - the licensing board would have to come up with some proposed licensing language, but since this whole idea hasn't even had a city-council hearing, the board has yet to take up the idea.

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I fail to see the issue. Only people living in "nice" neighborhoods are capable of handling BYOB responsibly? That's nonsense. What exactly are you imagining would happen in Roxbury that wouldn't happen in the South End?

And the point the councilor was making is that BYOB could "ghetto-ize" a neighborhood. That's clearly not the case, and you don't need to look far to prove it because Brookline has BYOB. No, Councilor Wu is right; BYOB allows restaurants that can't otherwise afford the extortionary cost of a liquor license an alternative outlet to be competitive economically. It enables a broad range of businesses to exist in a way that's financially sustainable. That's good for the owners, the locals, and the entire neighborhood. There's nothing "ghetto" about it.

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And I'm seeing it was a poor choice. Pressley was NOT making the case that BYOB would destroy Hyde Park or wherever, only that it would be consigned to a second tier of liquor availability, which might make it harder for its commercial districts (if you count Wolcott Square, I guess) to improve themselves, given the connection between restaurant entrepreneurs and liquor licenses (which can make the difference between profitability and going out of business).

Now I'm off to change the word in the original post because I don't want people thinking she said something she didn't.

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Artificial constraints on liquor service draws in opportunistic rent seekers. It's not my problem if they gamble and lose, and I certainly can't see a reason for us to force other restaurants to compete on an uneven playing field, just for the benefit of the folks who decided to play liquor license lottery.

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This is typical mass blue law / nimby crap. Go to any state, BYOB is common and doesnt create any "ghettos". Typical of mass residents to think this is going to cause anarchy.

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For the past couple of years, Pressley has fought hard to increase the number of liquor licenses in Boston because of the well noted phenomenon of deep-pocketed out-of-state restaurant chains paying upwards of $300,000 for liquor licenses of bars in places such as Mattapan and Roxbury so they can open pricey new places on the waterfront.

Free market, hells yeah, except this is not a free market - it's a highly regulated market with the number of licenses capped by state law, creating artificial scarcity and so, ultimately, neighborhoods where it's pretty much impossible for entrepreneurs to open a restaurant where you can get some wine with your meal.

Pressley didn't win her battle to just uncap the number of liquor licenses in the city. Instead, she got 75 new licenses over the next three years that can only be given out in three large neighborhoods (Mattapan, Roxbury and Dorchester) and in areas covered by the city's 20 or so Main Street Districts.

The law has not worked out quite the way Pressley thought it would. While several Dorchester restaurants have indeed gotten the new licenses, none in Roxbury or Mattapan have (because nobody's applied for one). Roslindale Square got one (but a restaurant like three blocks outside the Roslindale Main Street district did not). I was surprised to hear her worry about Hyde Park yesterday, because it's gotten three of the licenses (one was an upgrade from beer and wine to all alcohol).

The word "ghetto" was mine, not hers; I was thinking of something like "student ghetto," not the more pejorative meaning . She used the word "tiers," as in worrying that the city would wind up split between two tiers of liquor "licenses" - the traditional ones, which can still be fairly expensive - and the BYOB whatever-they-becomes, which she worries would still leave the city with disparities, because as nice as BYOB might be, and despite what Bill Linehan thinks, it's hardly the same as a beer-and-wine or all-alcohol license.

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In one corner, you've got Michelle Wu (young, progressive) and Stephen Murphy (old school pol). In the other corner, you've got Ayanna Pressley (voice of women, people of color) and Bill Linehan (Southie Irish pol.) The breakdown is because at this level, all politics is local, and their people have concerns on either side.

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I'm usually aligned with Pressley on just about everything, but she's dead wrong here. BYOB works. Lots of restaurants don't want to get a full license because they want to focus on the food or don't want to worry about the insurance liability. BYOB gives them a chance to serve those clients who want a glass of wine or a beer with their meal.

Mass law gives cities the power to regulate BYOB, so you could do sensible things like capping the number of beverages a person can bring in (a bottle of wine or 6-pack per person is plenty), restrict hard alcohol, cap the overall number of BYOB licenses issued (not that you should, but you could), etc.

Most restaurants charge a corkage fee for BYOB, which helps them compete with lost liquor sales. And as for servers losing out on tips? They're losing even more tips without BYOB licenses. There are a handful of restaurants in JP I won't visit because I like a beer with my meal when I go out. If there was a BYOB law, I might start going. That's income those restaurants and servers are losing by not having BYOB.

BYOB also opens up the doors for more innovative concepts like Bacchanal in New Orleans: http://www.bacchanalwine.com/ It's a wine shop on one side and a restaurant on the other. You buy your wine, go next door, and order a meal. It's one of the most memorable places I've been in years, and it's exactly the kind of place we can't have in this fun-destroying city thanks to our idiotic liquor laws.

As for Linehan's objections....well, my track record of hating everything that comes out of his mouth continues. Business investments are not guaranteed. You expect me to be worried about someone's investment in an artificially-created market shortage? Why don't you think about the restaurant patrons who are paying inflated prices for food and drink to cover those license costs, or the many people (including ME) who would love to open a restaurant but can never afford to do so because of the liquor license costs. We should be doing everything we can to tank those prices. If we need to compromise to keep some VIPs happy, let's devise a system where the value of the licenses goes down incrementally over 10 years. God, when are we going to get someone who actually works for the people he represents in that seat on the council?

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There were some way to research the impact of this. If only other places already did this and could offer some insight instead of assumptions.

Seriously though, this has worked very well for San Francisco, and their local bar and restaurant scene hasn't suffered (what IS killing it is the all too familiar overinflated development, but that's another story).

I guess MY concern is that college bros are less likely to keep cool than tech bros when they get a few Bud Lights and shots of Fireball in them.

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Brookline, NYC, Providence (I believe), it's done almost everywhere and the world hasn't ended. Of course, none of these cities have such ridiculous liquor licensing laws.

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In dry counties that allow BYOB in restaurants down South, some restaurants have "corking" fees, or mixer fees, or glass provision fees, that are supposed to either go to the server or be split between the server and the restaurant. The problem is that these are never enough to make up for the tip loss in serving a bottle of wine, and usually the server is doing the same work-- uncorking it, filling glasses, et cetera. Even more so with hard liquor, but I don't think this proposal covers booze.

Some restaurants are impacted more than others. BYOB at a big family-type restaurant doesn't effect sales/tips much, as most people don't have more than one or two drinks, if that, when hauling a bunch of kids around (no matter how much they want to). The restaurant makes its money on all those chicken fingers. Georgia & North Florida are covered in these places. Avoid them at all costs.

But that type of restaurant isn't a big part of the eastern MA restaurant scene, as far as I know-- maybe more in the 'burbs? In Boston, people tend to take kids pretty much wherever they would go as adults for casual or bar dining, they just do it at an earlier hour.

So that leaves everything else. On the higher end-- not necessarily swank but still a place you could take a date-- that absolutely does impact the servers. Drinks are easily a third of a bill, and a lot of the running the server does. On the other end-- "restaurants" that are basically also bars-- that means the staff has no control over how much the patrons drink, much less getting any tips. Pressley is absolutely right about that being a problem.

This has changed a little, but a lot of the rural dives in the South used to be unlicensed to serve alcohol. Some had off-premises licenses, so we would go in and buy a bottle of whatever, then a buy glass of ginger ale, and that would be the last thing I remember. I kid. But still, this is an excellent way of guaranteeing a nightly fight in your parking lot.

Where a BYOB license would work is in smaller, neighborhood sit-down family restaurants. I think El Oriental in JP would be a great place to be able to occasionally bring a bottle of wine or some beer for a big group, but most of the time, they are fine without a license. Furthermore, they are tight on space and seem to often have young staff during the summer, so BYOB makes more sense than a standard license.

Maybe very selective BYOB licensing to smaller, existing restaurants would be the way to go. Places that have proven that brown bagging would be simply a side benefit, not a primary draw, to the restaurant, and that don't have enough seats to steal away business from the fully licensed places.

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The problem is that these are never enough to make up for the tip loss in serving a bottle of wine,

This problem is easily fixed. Raise the minimum wage for servers so they're not dependent on tips based on inflated drink prices to make a decent living.

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I made that argument when MA went smoke-free in restaurants; if the rationale was, largely, that it was being done for the server's health, then logically shouldn't they be paid enough to get health insurance, and to take a day off when sick?

I made that argument when minimum wage was raised in MA. I wrote every effing congressperson & senator when minimum wage came to vote nationally.

As we all have noticed, none of this has had an effect yet. I won't give up, but I'm not holding my breath, either.

As a side point: Corking fees are not even guaranteed to go to the server-- plenty of places keep them for the house.

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Obviously, having a license would be better for servers and ownership, but this proposal only covers places that don't have a license. If they don't have one, it's probably because they don't have the cash to buy one or there isn't one available. The customer isn't making a choice between buying a bottle from the restaurant and buying one from the packie down the street - it's packie or no booze.

If a restaurant decides that a corkage fee or whatever they choose to apply to BYOB customers doesn't cover the efforts of the wait staff, they can choose not to allow BYOB and they're in the same position they are now.

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OT but curious-- haven't Belmont and Milton had some odd licensing, or non-licensing, practices? What do they do?

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This is so ridiculous. The world isn't going to end if you have a BYOB. If they don't like that then they have to do something about the licenses.

There is no reason whatsoever that Seven Star in Rozzie can't have one because it's not in a "Main Streets" area but the new burger place in the Shaw's supermarket plaza in W Roxbury got one after Seven Star was told no. Who do they know?

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.. had a lot of BYOB places. My favorite was the Cao Palace. It was others' favorite too: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/615529 . There were a lot of great, inexpensive places in Allston in those days.

Unfortunately, police started clamping down so we just started eating more at home.

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I remember V Majestic allowed brown bagging. Never occurred to me to ask if it was legal. Don't look a gift horse...

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I guess I shouldn't say exactly which one, but after I moved here around 2007, I heard one of the many small places on Brighton Ave that happens to make very good food let you BYOB. Never got bothered by the staff or authorities.

BYOB is perfect for those spots. They are too small for any ruckus to develop, and it doesn't make sense for them to invest in a license for their 4 tables.

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Where are the BYOB ghettos of Brookline located so I can see the devastation first-hand?

Can anyone let me know if Brookline eateries are suffering a shortage of waitstaff due to all the tip hunters running to Allston/Brighton establishments that serve alcohol?

How much did the most recent license transfer go for in Brookline while just down the street everyone was BYOB instead?

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This is one of those situations where I really want to see a donor list accompany every statement made by a pol.

How much are established restaurateurs- for example Back Bay Restaurant Group, Aquitaine Group, Legal Seafoods, etc.and even single-location places - donating to Linehan?

(I think Pressley's goals are more pure, but gosh, if nobody will step up to open a place now that she's helped with licensing, that says something else, entirely). And I wonder what Diane Wilkerson would say about all of this? :-)

BYOB for small establishments seems like a total win for residents of LInehan's district. But maybe a thorn in the side of some of those potential donors. When he speaks, I'd just like to know exactly what money is behind it. Perhaps I'm wrong and he's really just concerned for Roger Berkowitz.

This goes for many issues. Every time a Pol speaks against Uber, I also badly want to see the donor list from the bigger Boston Taxi medallion holders. (Talking to you, Michlewicz).

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I disagree with most of Wu's politics, but she often seems like the most energetic and forward-thinking person in City Hall.

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I am indifferent to BYOB, I dont need to drink when I eat, so I agree with Pressley - the issue isn't whether to have BYOB or not, its that the cap should be lifted like she tried to do. BYOB is just a band-aid for the REAL problem!!

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The cap should be lifted, but there are restaurants that might prefer offering a BYOB option over the licensing requirements.

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It's too bad your comment is at the bottom and no one will see it, because you're entirely correct - not only are these two options NOT mutually exclusive, but having both options gives businesses flexibility and gives consumers options. It's win/win.

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Byob could very well draw the folks to restaraunts that won't pay for drinks but would buy meals if they could bring their own booze. Very important in the lower income areas!

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Exactly. Cheaper to open and operate a restaurant that's byo than one that has a liquor license. Lower insurance, lower legal fees etc.

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I moved to Boston from Philly. PA has tougher liquor laws than Mass so there are plenty of BYOB restaurants. Some of the best restaurants in that city are BYOB because the owner/chef doesn't have to worry about the hassle and costs associated with a liquor license.

BYO makes it cheaper to open and run a restaurant. BYO in Boston means more chefs opening more restaurants which means more jobs.

Further, majority of people don't go to BYOB to get wasted. You're going to bring a bottle or two of wine. Maybe some beer if that's what you want. People aren't going to show up with veritable liquor cabinet full of different booze so they can have cocktails, wine and then port to a BYOB. That stuff is heavy and if you're going anywhere afterwards, are you going to lug it around? No.

The debate is silly and anti innovation and job growth. While I'm sorry for the people who've invested lots of money in liquor licenses, the reality is two fold: 1) They're not going to lose that much business. 2) The market is changing. Find a way to innovate and bring people into your business besides the fact that you have a liquor license.

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