The celebrichef chainification of Boston continues; Aga's Highland taps out in Roxbury
The Boston Licensing Board today approved plans for a hamburger joint that celebriBrit Gordon Ramsay wants to open in the new hotel at Haymarket with a liquor license he's buying from the heirs of Aga's Highland Tap in Nubian Square, as well as plans for a Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville that will replace the old McCormick & Schmick in Faneuil Hall Marketplace with exactly what you'd expect.
Ramsay's downish-scale but eponymous burger emporium in the new Canopy Hotel by Hilton will feature "classic" burgers and hot dogs, along with what his lawyer at first told the licensing board yesterday would be "shakes," until he remembered he was in Boston and so amended that to "frappes." Ramsay already has a pricier Ramsay's Kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the Back Bay.
Ramsay's Shake Shack competitor will have almost 200 seats on two levels, with an 89-seat outdoor patio. Ramsay's lawyer said it could open by the end of the year.
To lubricate his customers, Ramsay is buying the liquor license from Aga's Highland Tap on Washington Street at Eustis Street in Roxbury, which for a time was the only strip club in Boston operating outside the Combat Zone but which in more modern times was a somewhat more modest "bikini bar."
Aga's owner, Agamenon Alexopoulos, who had opened the bar in 1947, began offering nude dancing in 1979. The city immediately moved to keep the G-strings from coming off and the two sides spent more than 10 years in court fighting over whether the city's zoning code, which barred commercial nudity outside what was then a much larger Combat Zone, applied to Aga's.
The city consistently lost in court, for reasons that included the original ordinance being unconstitutionally vague to screwing up the process for holding hearings on the bar. And so, every time the city would try to revoke or not renew his license, Alexopoulos went to court and won. Still, the case dragged on until 1992, when the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which summarized the earlier action ruled that the city did not have to pay Alexopoulos's legal fees.
In later years, Aga's Highland Tap did switch from fully naked women to women who only got down to bikinis. Alexopoulos died in 2003; his widow, Alice, is the current owner of the business, which shut for the pandemic, appeared to re-open a year or so ago, then shut again.
Just yesterday, the Boston City Council voted to ask the state legislature for four new liquor licenses, three of which would only be able to be used at the nearby Bolling Building (and one at the Strand Theater in Uphams Corner). The council has to ask for the legislature's permission since it has never given up its power from the post-Repeal days of deciding how many liquor licenses Boston can have.
Meanwhile, the new Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville at Faneuil Hall Marketplace will have room for 296 tourists who want to experience song lyrics brought to life as high-calorie fried food and alcoholic drinks.
Since this is America, diners will be able to get not just a Cheeseburger in Paradise, but a Double Cheeseburger in Paradise, which they will be able to wash down with their choice of margaritas, including one called Last Mango in Paris.
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I hope tourism comes back...
... or all of these joints will end up shuttered in a couple of years.
I'd already stopped going to Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market because it had become bland, even before the pandemic hit. And of course, Haymarket was already a pale shadow of its former self, now basically gone.
All of the uniquely Bostonian experiences -- the Common, the Public Garden, the Freedom Trail, the Emerald Necklace -- are free. The local commerical venues are being replaced by national chains. No more Durgin Park. No more Brighams. No more Au Bon Pain.
Since there are very few in-person conferences left, this leaves recreational tourism or, well, nothing. Good luck with that.
Au Bon Pain is a national chain though
Ya dude. Brighams was the best. Now I settle for hornstra out in the burbs.
Bailey's was MUCH better.
Faneuil/Quincy Market continues to be an absolute joke.
The limiting of liquor licenses, so that neighborhood taps (the good, the bad, and the ugly) are competing with the well-funded out-of-towners, is madness.
It's incredibly frustrating
There are so many spaces in residential "streetcar suburb" neighborhoods here that could support owner-operated restaurants if we had a normal liquor licensing process. This foolishness needs to stop.
Been banging this drum for a decade-plus. It's not
just that good local indies get replaced by middlebrow celeb-flavored bullshit that you can find in any podunk-ass city around the country, but that indie chefs that want to operate here end up having to move to our suburbs to escape the resultant obscene startup costs.
How the hell do we end the state legislature's control of Boston liquor licensing? That is the source of this pox.
Meanwhile: fuck you, Guy Fieri, Gordon Ramsay, Jimmy Buffett, and every other money-grubbing former or never-was chef talent that is leeching the lifeblood of our local dining scene.
Tell the legislature it isn't the 1630s anymore
When people tell the Legislature that it isn't 1630 anymore; to get out of the Puritan mindset that alcohol consumption is a sin and should be taxed or red-taped out of existence if it can't be eliminated; and snatching the control of liquor out of the Brahmins who still think the Irish are a threat. (ETA: Also, Prohibition was repealed a long, long time ago.)
On a whim, I took a look at what the most liberal alcohol state, Missouri, charged for their liquor licenses. The most you will pay is $500, but the cheapest license you can get is $10, and there is no pernicious bureaucratic maze of transfers and stifling limitations on who can possess how many licenses.
Imagine what kind of restaurants would flourish in Faneuil Hall if the licenses weren't a huge racket and a profit source for the well-connected. The tourist traps would still be there, but lo and behold! Independently owned restaurants and bars would be filled to capacity because the bottom of the license racket would drop out.
Full disclosure - I do not drink, but I support those who do so responsibly.
I believe this is not about Puritanism, but
the old Beacon Hill WASP guard keeping a hand on the steering wheel of Boston politics after Irish- and Italian-Americans started winning mayoral elections in the early 20th century.
Regardless, it's a relic that has long harmed innovation and indie entrepreneurship in our restaurant scene. It has to go.
Depending upon your preferred narrative...
Depending upon your preferred narrative, it was either bigoted WASPs keeping control out of the hands of the Irish, or good-government types depriving Curley of the bribery income he could otherwise earn by selling licenses. Probably a little of both.
To be semi-fair to the
To be semi-fair to the legislature, lawmakers are well aware it's not the puritan times anymore (although the puritans actually drank a fuck-ton of beer, historically speaking). I don't believe for a second this control is moral in nature.
Rather, all these celebrity chefs can afford to donate 500$ to Lawmaker McBumfuckville from West North Hicksville, Western Massachusetts, for his reelection campaign. All the restaurant groups that own 5, 6, 7 identity-less, bland restaurants in the city and are therefore sitting on millions of dollars "worth" of liquor licenses can also afford those donations. Why would the lawmakers upset those fine upstanding business folk by allowing Boston to issue their own licenses, which means that the city either starts issuing a lot more of them and devaluing the existing ones, OR that all these restaurateurs now need to make much more hefty donations in the more expensive, urban races for city council.
Modern law is almost always about money, not morals.
As someone who grew up there,
As someone who grew up there, Missouri also has a ton of drunk driving and alcoholism-related deaths, suicides, and violence. You can buy liquor at a drug store, along with your cough syrup, then get real fucked up and go make some meth in your garage. The answer to MA being waaay overly controlling isn't always to go to the exact opposite end.....
Is it the availability of liquor that leads to such things, or is it the lack of other opportunities and ways to spend one's time?
Probably both. If you're
Probably both. If you're bored and depressed enough you'll go through any effort to get booze/weed/junkfood/addiction of choice. But there's also a cost-to-reward ratio that if alcohol wasn't sold at every single gas station across the state, maybe people who aren't fully in extremes of social difficulties and are just looking for the easiest/fastest way to feel better wouldn't reach for a bottle as the first thing.
Anecdotally, my mother who is a trauma nurse said that when they decriminalized (though not legalized) weed in 2014, she felt there was a notable decrease in things like drunk suicide attempts, domestic cases bad enough to go to the hospital, etc. And it's definitely not like Missouri has increased social safety nets, professional opportunities, or the basic amenities of civilization since 2014.
I can imagine some cities in Missouri well outside of St. Louis, Kansas City, Branson and Springfield that have their fair share of problems with booze. You would think that with looser liquor laws, there would be more responsibility, but that doesn't always work that way.
Side note: When I went to college in New Hampshire for a semester, I was surprised that they sold beer and wine at the local drug store, but all of the hard liquor had to be purchased at state liquor stores. (Same goes for Maine and Vermont.) Perhaps that would be the way to go for Massachusetts, but that would tick off the package store lobby that enjoys that advantage and would see beer and wine in other stores as a competitive threat.
State liquor stores at interstate rest stops.
I love the one on the NH Turnpike. Ten miles one is in the state and you get all your liquor for the road.
I don’t know if we will get
I don’t know if we will get happy hour back because plenty of restaurants don’t want it.
Every hour is happy hour...
How to end the limited liquor license law?
Seriously, though, how can we work overturn this ridiculously outdated law? Is it something that could be put on the ballot and voted on? It's preventing so many small, local, and creative restaurants and bars from opening in Boston. Portland, Providence, Philly, Pittsburgh, NYC, and a ton of other comparable cities have such fantastic and hip local places for eating and drinking. We have a bunch of mediocre corporate chain restaurants owned by rich restauranteur types because they are the only ones who can afford these insanely overpriced licenses. It makes it even worse that they're able to buy up the licenses from local places--who are clearly incentivized to sell because they will cash out--but in doing so means that they have to close their businesses.
It will be hard
As with taxi medallions, it will be argued that "the little guy's" license is their 401k. Lifting the cap will necessarily wipe out the difference between the cost of a new license (which ought to be in the low four figures) and the current market value (five or six figures).
I've suggested this before: a sliding payout
based on the number of years you've had to recoup your license investment. Recent buyers get a big chunk, longer-term holders get less or nothing.
There's no good and fair way out.
The equity issue that raises is that the recent buyers are the well-heeled corporate interests and the long-time holders are the neighborhood-owned mom&pop establishments.
Build in a transition period.
Build in a transition period. Announce control will be returned to City Council in X years, but the legilature will approve Y amount of new licenses every year until that point, to be distributed by the city. The city can lay out whatever rules in terms of small owners, established neighbors, no coorporations, etc, for handing them out - this is why we have a liquor board so it can be a judgement call.
Have the law announced a year before it's going to go into effect. These big guys, who open six restaurants in tourist traps all over the goddamn country, see a 400k license as a cost of doing business - they're not going to delay opening their restaurant for a year to get a 'cheap' license from the city - they make more than that in a quarter of being open. This creates a market to allow small/local owners to continue to cash out by selling their existing licenses to big guys when they apply for and are granted a new cert from the city.
Note this only works if all new licenses issued by the city are no longer transferrable and must be returned to the city if the restaurant they are issued to closes, etc. No more private market bullshit except the existing ones which are going to eventually end up in the monied hands of a few megacorporations, whether changes happen or not.
Dick's Last Resort... its the 80s/90s all over again
Going to one of the 30+
Jimmy Buffett's Margaritavilles will be such a unique Boston experience.
Way to bring the buzz back to downtown.
Maybe we can add a Bubba Gump Shrimp or a Red Lobster.
Whatever it takes to be a World Class City.
If you were a parrot head you would know JB has always had a love affair with our fair city, writing more than a few songs about it. And considering his association with pirates, sailing ships, history, sports(esp. the Red Sox and Bruins), his huge contribution to the OneBodton Fund and participation in the Concert for Boston………….it could be worse.
No problem with JB.
Not happy with Boston's downtown being turned into the East Podunk Mall.
I dated a Parrothead. Celeb-driven restaurants
still suck, no matter how beloved the figure behind them, c.f., Big Papi's Grille and countless other examples. (I've also been to a Margaritaville thanks to said Parrothead, on Cozumel: nice view, but so damned mediocre otherwise.)
Support your local indies!
MORE LOCAL + SMALL BIZ
I don’t care what JB wrote about Boston or how much he donated. A celebrity chain restaurant is just another chain restaurant. These places are a drain on the lifeblood of our city. We need more creative chefs, more artists, more business willing to partner with local farms. The last thing this late capitalist hellscape needs is more chain restaurants that have no interest in making anything other than money. So no… I disagree: it could not be worse.
So what you're saying is that...
Parrotheads have an such affinity for oversized and overpriced burgers, drinks etc that can be obtained at their local 99 Restaurant or a gazillion other places, they feel an intimate connection with a 75yo guy who already cant spend the fortune he's amassed (even with charitable giving)? I guess parrotheads are a far different crowd than dead heads....
Sorta off-topic, but I saw Buffett perform at
whatever Great Woods is called these days, and it was easily the drunkest crowd I've ever seen for a local public event -- and I go to Pats games once in a while. I'd estimate that 20% of the crowd missed the show because they were passed out.
An old friend likes to say, "Parrotheads are middle-aged people making up for the fact that they didn't party enough in their late teens and early 20s."
I actually kinda like Buffett when he's in sincere, pop-country singer mode -- I thought "Margaritaville" was a great song the first million times I heard it -- but the rest of the tropical, boaty, boozey kitsch is really trite and tiresome to me.
Boston has the same Shoppes
Boston has the same Shoppes as Margaitaville,
Don't know why I am spending $400 a night,
Some people say its the MBTA to blame,
And I think,
That they're probably right.
boston bikini bars
i’ve never heard of this. it doesn’t sound like any kind of place i’d be interested in having a cold one. are there any others?
At least, not that I know of.
Yeah but you gotta go to
Yeah but you gotta go to Portland Oregon
Plenty in New Jersey.
Plenty in New Jersey.
New Jersey has/ had similar
New Jersey has/ had similar establishments- recall some coverage mandated by having liquor license
Aga's was a real trip- friend of mine lived in area and had some oddball stories from there- not the least of which was when they'd get their license suspended and supposedly have to close- but stayed open letting people in through back
Long live the old and strange Boston.
Just yesterday, the Boston
SCREAMING. FOUR?? YOU DID A WHOLE VOTE AND ARE GOING TO THE STATE AND YOU'RE ONLY GOING TO ASK FOR FOUR?? ASK FOR TEN. ASK FOR TEN EVERY YEAR UNTIL WE HAVE THOUSANDS.
They tried that
The council has made at least a couple attempts to get more "neighborhood" licenses (which could only be used in certain neighborhoods and would have to be returned to the city when the holders close for good), plus "umbrella" licenses for large new developments (so, for example, South Bay could get a single license it could then use for multiple establishments; Logan Airport has a license like that).
And you know what the state legislature did? You can probably guess.
So baby steps.
Or the council can go to the
Or the council can go to the state over and over and over and over. Go every session. Go every day. Every time they say no immediately register for your next appointment or however it works to go back and ask. Present petitions. Bring would-be restaurant owners to speak. Make it HARD for the state to keep blueballing.