The Boston Licensing Board could vote tomorrow whether to let a proposed taqueria in Emerson College's revamped Little Building stay open until 2 a.m. or whether to back a neighborhood association, the mayor and the local city councilor, who say a midnight closing would protect area students and residents from dangerous knockabouts drawn like moths to late-night Mexican food.
At a hearing today, representatives of the Midtown-Park Plaza Neighborhood Association said they were mainly thinking of the 1,000 Emerson freshmen who live in the Little Building, at the corner of Boylston and Tremont streets, in the heart of New England's largest city.
One member said that around 11:30 the other night, while walking home from Tufts Medical Center, she eyed two large groups of men just standing on the street, one group on Beach Street, the other on Avery Street. Left unsaid, of course, was the implication of what they would do to all those dewy communications majors at 2 a.m. should El Jefe's Taqueria be allowed to stay open that late.
But El Jefe's owner, John Schall, who has an outlet in Harvard Square that is open until 4 a.m., said, if anything, staying open until 2 a.m. would make the area safer, because it will mean more eyes and light on the street.
He committed to hiring a private security guard to police the 36-seat restaurant in the later hours and said and that both the guard and the manager on duty would refuse admission to anybody appearing under the influence or seeming to be looking for trouble.
Plus, the restaurant would have an entrance/exit right into the Little Building, separate from the public entrance, so Emerson freshmen would not even have to risk their lives on the dangerous streets of downtown Boston just to get something to eat, he said.
Also, unlike the Winter Street Tasty Burger, which scaled back its own proposed 2 a.m. closing time in the face of opposition from Midtown-Park Plaza, El Jefe is not seeking an alcohol license.
Schall added that by staying open until 2 a.m., he would be filling a need for both Emerson students and other non-creepy denizens of the night, such as hospital workers.
"College students eat between midnight and 2 a.m. and that's just a fact," he said.
Board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce asked Schall if he'd be willing to start out with a midnight closing time and then come back after a few months to seek a later closing time.
His attorney, Cailin Burke , said Schall would stick to his 2 a.m. request, both because he sees a business need to stay open that late and because there are at least 11 other places within a quarter mile of the corner of Boylston and Tremont that are open late - including New York Pizza on Tremont Street, which is open until 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, 1 a.m. the rest of the week.
Aides to both Mayor Walsh and City Councilor Ed Flynn said they would only support Schall's request for a food-serving license if it had a closing time of midnight, for the public-safety reasons enumerated by the residents group.