When the Earls Kitchen and Bar chain decided to open an outlet in Boston, they stocked the bar with two sets of taps, one for draught beer, the other for wine.
Today, the beer taps are in regular use, but the wine taps sit empty, not connected to anything, because the Canadian chain learned that the Boston market "prefers wine in bottles," rather than the box wine that would otherwise fill the taps, chain attorney Andrew Upton told the Boston Licensing Board this morning.
Of course, Upton had not dropped by the board to simply chat about Bostonian's preferences in wines. He was there to help the local outlet answer a couple of citations from BPD licensing detectives following a March 30 surprise inspection, one involving the fact that that beer taps had only small labels, visible just to the bar staff, rather than the large labels or handles that the detectives said state law requires so that patrons can know what sort of beer is being poured into their glasses.
Upton and BPD Sgt. Det. Robert Mulvey got into a bit of a verbal tussle over just what state law requires.
Sure, Upton, allowed, state law does require the taps to be "legibly labeled," but it doesn't specify to whom, and in the absence of any specific direction otherwise, that doesn't mean it has to be something a patron is required to be allowed to see, he said. Labels for bartenders is good enough, because they need to know which tap to use for which beer, he said.
Mulvey said he checked with the chief investigator at the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, who said the purpose of the law was to ensure educated consumers and so obviously it means the customer-facing taps should be labeled with the sort of beer they are serving up.
Mulvey added this reluctance to label taps seems to be mainly an issue with the city's newer establishments, the ones more likely to put in those chic little chrome handles. "Maybe they think it's a cleaner look with the chrome handles," he said.
Still, to forestall any possible action by the licensing board, Upton then told its members that Earl's has since put customer-facing labels on the active taps, that is, the ones that serve up beer, rather than wine, and that the labels have "bigger, bolder letters than before."
In addition to the taps issue, Earls also had to answer a citation for being overcrowded on March 30.
Mulvey said that during the inspection in which he found the blank taps, he also found 249 people in Earl's second-floor dining room, which has a licensed capacity of 231.
Dylan Todd, the local Earls's general manager, said he is pretty rigorous about checking occupancy levels and that his count that night showed only about 220 people just before the inspection. Still, he said he has added doormen to ensure an even more accurate count.
The board meets Thursday to decide what action, if any, to take about the two citations.