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As Boston tries to get more liquor licenses for outer neighborhoods, simple beer and wine license on Newbury Street sells for $251,000 in bidding war

The Boston Licensing Board voted today to let Kazuhiro Aotani, who operates Boston Ramen Co. in Harvard Square, open a new ramen outlet called Sushi by Bosso Ramen Tavern at 163 Newbury St. in the Back Bay.

The new restaurant, with planned hours of 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., will take over the beer-and-wine license formerly owned and used at the location by Double Zero, a vegan pizza place that went bankrupt.

Aotani obtained the license from - and agreed to pledge it back to - building owner Panos Demeter.

After the pizza place's owner, Plant-Based Pizza Boston, went into Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this year, Demeter offered to buy the license for $125,000, according to documents filed in US Bankruptcy Court in Boston. Plant-Based Pizza listed Demeter as its largest creditor, with $905,000 in unpaid rent.

The trustee in the case recommended a judge approve the sale rather than putting the license up for auction, saying he had consulted with a local auctioneer who said the price was in line with what beer-and-wine - rather than all-alcohol - licenses in Boston go for these days, and that a direct sale would save the costs of an auction.

But then UrbanMeritrage, which also owns property along Newbury Street, heard about the license and put in its own bid - for $175,000 - records show.

On Sept. 6, the judge in the case held a hearing to decide the matter. Demeter and an UrbanMeritage executive wrote down their final offers on pieces of lined paper. A court clerk stamped both offers at 10:49 a.m. The offers were put in sealed envelopes and then the judge opened them - and awarded the license to Demeter, who bid $251,000, while UrbanMeritage only offered $231,000.

On Monday, Mayor Wu and other city officials testified at the State House on the city's latest home-rule petition seeking more liquor licenses - 250 that would be restricted to use in certain outer neighborhoods, where new restaurant owners are finding it increasingly difficult to buy one on the open market, when beer-and-wine licenses can go for $251,000 and all-alcohol licenses, which allow for the sale of hard liquor, are now approaching $600,000.

Boston has been trying for new liquor licenses for years. But aside from five new licenses approved in 2022, specifically for the Bolling Building in Roxbury and the Strand Theater in Dorchester, the state legislature has refused to give Boston more.

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Comments

I don't know but

On Monday, Mayor Wu and other city officials testified at the State House on the city's latest home-rule petition seeking more liquor licenses - 250 that would be restricted to use in certain outer neighborhoods, where new restaurant owners are finding it increasingly difficult to buy one on the open market,

Maybe we should just do away with this weird regulatory thing we do here and flatten it out so its easier to get one, so biz don't get into bidding wars or are like vultures over a carcass of a dead restaurant.

This 1920s era policy just needs to go. Its inhibiting business at this point

(I know, i know.. I'm preachin to the choir.. but why is this so hard to undo?)

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You'd better believe that if beer and wine or even full liquor licenses were handed out for a flat fee, everyone that bought one at auction under the assumption that they were limited in quantity would have a suit filed before the ink dried on bill. It's bait-and-switch, it's the same reason cab companies are livid that the government has done jack all about rideshare companies.

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Make sure everyone is within walking distance of a tavern.

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or... *gasp*

Public Transit that runs decently all night long.

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We could rely on drunk folks making good decisions.

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Take the money and run an all-night bus service.

No one is going to notice when their IPA goes from $8.50 to $8.75. But patrons and especially staff will notice when they don't have to compete for a surge price Uber at 2 a.m.

* Almost definitely should be a % tax, so that someone ordering bottle service at a club pays the appropriate amount for their transgression. So, what, 3%? 25¢ on a beer, $1 on a $30 bottle of wine, $12 to $50 on bottle service.

Kind of crazy that state excise tax on beer right now is 1.3¢ per pint and it hasn't been raised since 1980. Wine is about 2¢ per glass, spirits 5¢ per drink. (In our infinite wisdom, we voted down a tax on liquor in 2010, because New Hampshire.)

To do some quick and dirty math: roughly 20% of alcohol sales take place on-premises, let's assume that 15% of liquor is consumed on-premises. Massholes consume roughly 15 million gallons of ethanol per year, which equates to about 3.2 billion drinks per year or 500 drinks per person per year (most of which are consumed by the top 10% of drinkers and, yes, this is scary). If 15% of those drinks are on-premises a 25¢ per drink tax would raise $120 million per year. That could provide all-night transit not just in Boston but probably across the Commonwealth.

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Apply the liquor license laws that currently only apply to Boston, to every municipality outside of the area served by the MBTA.

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Liquor licensing laws are the exact same across every town and city in the Commonwealth.

The number of licenses available in other locations, however, appear to meet demand vs. in Boston itself.

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The number of licenses available in other locations, however, appear to meet demand vs. in Boston itself.

The reason for this is that the laws are slightly different for Boston, though you are correct that the rules governing how to qualify for a license are the same across the entire state. In Boston, though, the total license count is capped, whereas in every single other municipality, it can be adjusted locally to, as you note, meet demand. Boston is the only place in the state where the General Court determines how many licenses can exist.

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Mass has a quota system that uses a per population formula that caps cities and towns. Boston is not alone in this. See this op ed:

https://www.gazettenet.com/Guest-columnist-Helmus-50014987

Even Northampton has to beg the state for more licenses. Boston isn't special - just that the per population licensing hits harder.

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I find that very difficult to believe based on the number of restaurants there.

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This is so hard to undo because the people who paid $250k for their licenses will raise a big stink about it. They need the market for these licenses to be artificially scarce so they retain their value, and pressure their local city councilors to make sure that arrangement does not change.

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There's about 1500? Just buy them back. Or give them 250k in payroll tax exemptions or a combination of cash and exemptions. May not be the cheapest solution but it'll be done.

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Okay but what if the city just.... issued them. Go wild and just tell the Licensing Board that if somebody meets certain requirements, they can get a license! Make the state take us to court and make them defend this absurd rule.

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For apparently quiet a number of years. Didn't turn out well for them.

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I think Boston would have a better case though. There is no reason at all for Boston to be the only one who has to go to Beacon Hill and beg for licenses. The law was based in anti-Irish bigotry to start with and only remains because people who now own the monopolized licenses are lobbying to keep those assets artificially limited.

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How long ago are we talking here, do you have any information on it? It must've been at least 30 years ago.

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Now that I'm older, wiser, less impressed, and more secure I can't believe how insecure the parades of people on Newbury Strreet are. High end designer clothing is cheaply made now and assembled mostly by poor people in poor countries with compromised synthetic fabric or synthetic fabric blends. If u want to really show off, do something to win applause and be proud of. Mentor local youth who live in poverty, violence, and as have-nots with no yards to play in.

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Follow the money. Who wins, who loses under the current system?

The restaurant owners need to come up with an extra $250,000 for the license. Restaurants don't typically get cheap loan rates, so say 10%, which means they need to pay a bank $25,000 per year.

For what? Absolutely zero value added to anybody.

Government created artificial scarcity -- taxi medallions, liquor licenses, etc. -- are simply a way to make sure that the banks get their piece of the pie.

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One of the most highly educated states in the nation in we're still imposing stupid shit like this on ourselves. The Legislature needs to just let Boston control it's own liquor licenses. This absurdity has gone on for long enough!

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