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In a city with a shortage of liquor licenses, one East Boston restaurant's travails could be another's salvation

The Boston Licensing Board, which had already given John Tyler one last chance to prove he could actually run a restaurant in the Maverick Square building he co-owns with his ex-wife, voted today to schedule a revocation hearing for its liquor license as soon as possible after receiving word his latest restaurant has failed.

Also today, the board voted to approve a full liquor license for the re-opened Italian Express, just a short walk away at 336 Sumner St., "subject to the availability" of a license.

The board doesn't currently have any licenses to dole out, because the state legislature keeps stomping on requests from Boston for more, so Italian Express and the more than 1,000 people who signed petitions over just three days supporting its bid - including state Sen. Lydia Edwards - will have to wait. But if the board agrees to yank the license for Tyler's 154 Station, it could possibly award it to Italian Express.

Back in August, the licensing board told Tyler it was giving him one last chance to re-open a restaurant in the former Welfare building he and his now ex-wife bought at a steep discount from the city in 2011.

Since they began divorce proceedings in 2016, Tyler and his ex-wife have been battling in court over ownership and operation of a restaurant in the building - with a total of four separate lawsuits in Suffolk Superior Court, including actions in which the LLC they jointly own to run the restaurant has sued both of them separately.

In August, with the Maverick House restaurant shut, Tyler, in a plan opposed by his wife, Melissa, proposed bringing in a local restaurant owner to run a new restaurant in the building. The board approved the plan, even after a contentious hearing at which Melissa accused John of locking out the separate operator she had hired to re-open the space.

At its meeting this morning, as soon as Executive Secretary Danny Green read the agenda item to discuss a letter from Tyler that his latest effort, 154 Station, was closed and that he was attempting to find yet another third party to run a restaurant there, board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce simply said "Please schedule a non-use hearing immediately."

The Maverick Street space has a restricted "neighborhood" license, which means that it can only be used in certain designated parts of the city, and cannot be resold.

That might be good for Italian Express, whose owner, James Ianuzzi was forced to sell his non-restricted beer-and-wine license he had when the pandemic destroyed his business and forced him to close.

Ianuzzi, who recently re-opened, said he was seeking to obtain a full liquor license - which would let him sell hard liquor in addition to beer and wine - based in part on the fact that other nearby restaurants have such licenses and because people have asked for it.

He said that to go along with such a license, he's installed an 8-seat bar to go with the existing 22 table seats, and expanded his menu.

Edwards, who lives in East Boston supported his bid, saying she had been a frequent customer in Italian Express's previous incantation. Its closing "was very devastating to a lot of us in East Boston," she said, adding Ianuzzi had created a neighboring gathering spot and that before he closed the restaurant, he had turned his kitchen into a source of meals for local non-profits hard hit by pandemic issues themselves.

"They fed a lot of people," she said, adding that not only was the restaurant a neighborhood gathering spot, it was particularly welcoming to the LGBTQ community.

A liaison for the city's Office of Neighborhood Services said that Jeffries Point residents who attended a meeting on the proposed liquor license unanimously supported Ianuzzi.

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Comments

Absolute garbage that the corrupt hacks on Beacon Hill force the city to jump through these elaborate hoops to get local establishments the licenses they need to survive.

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Voting closed 29

Imagine the uproar if they did drivers’ licenses that way: if you want to drive a car in Massachusetts, you need to buy the license from someone who is willing to give theirs up.

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Voting closed 26

The current state control of the number of Boston liquor licensees originated as a way for the Puritan/Yankee/English-American establishment to control what they thought were the "evil drinking" ways of the Irish immigrants and Irish Americans.

It was a bigoted law, passed almost 100 years ago, during an era when Irish job seekers encountered "Irish need not apply" on business signs and help wanted ads in the newspapers. As a result of the bigotry of the time, there were some Irish that even went so far as to deny they were Irish, especially if they had a last name that could pass for English.

How long is the state, the city, and the public going to tolerate this overtly bigoted law?
Boston is the only city in the Commonwealth where the liquor licenses are restricted this way. It's time to let Boston control it's own destiny. Perhaps Healy and Driscoll, who I'm guessing both have Irish roots, can take the lead.

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Voting closed 25

Into a way to protect the current owners of Boston liquor licenses, similar to the way taxi licenses used to work, back before ride-sharing companies destroyed that market.

The key opponent to expanding the number of liquor licenses in Boston is not some anti-Irish suburban nob, but state Rep. Mike Moran of Brighton, who says he loves Michelle Wu but doesn't want the power of having more liquor licenses go to her head. Since he's the majority leader in the house, he gets to decide these things.

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Voting closed 23

Of course there was vicious anti-Irish bigotry. But the argument for taking licensing authority away from the city wasn't the "drunken Irishman" stereotype, it was sold as an anti-corruption measure. The state legislature was trying to cut out the grift: Take away liquor licensing authority and city officials won't be able to command bribes in return for issuing licenses. Now the fact that the city government was Irish and the state government was Yankee played into it without a doubt, and what was put forth as high-minded anti-corruption might have had an element of "why should those Irish guys be getting the grift; we want some." But it wasn't on its face a specifically anti-Irish measure.

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Voting closed 15

The current system offers plenty of chances for graft. Imagine two restaurants, one with a license, one without. The Board is empowered to revoke the license from the first and grant it to the second. Suppose the second restaurant owner does some sort of favor for a couple of board members, they might be able to find a reason to effect a change in who owns the license. Not saying that is the situation in this particular story, seems clearly to not be the case, but the Italian place might well have the capital requirements to offer such a favor, given the sale of their non-community license.

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These neighborhood licenses should be "use it or lose it". If an address is vacant for 6 months the license should be stripped and given away.

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Voting closed 27

The board approves people and then they sit on their hands until possibly forever waiting for a license to become available.

Would these people have standing to start suing the state? Could they make a case that the law as is causes them harm as restaurant owners, and is an undue and unfair burden because people running restaurants in EVERY OTHER CITY IN THE STATE don't have to sit and WAIT once their township approves them?

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Voting closed 14

If you're a functioning alcoholic like me, your body can still get the alcohol in it while sitting down and blending in with others eating in a place that doesn't have a liquor license. You gotta know how to do it and how to look and act. Cheaper, too.

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Voting closed 15

I love how Italian Express capitalizes on selling their liquor license for big profits, kept the building empty...now magically is coming back and is looking to get one of the cheap liquor licenses that's pretty much free.

What a joke....

Why exactly should that license go to Italian Express anyway....why not one of the restaurants like Smoke Shop in the neighborhood who's been waiting for a license a lot longer or any one of the small local businesses in East Boston who haven't had the shot yet.

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Voting closed 23

i remember going in during the height of covid (where not only was making mandatory but most people at least pretended to follow it - especially restaurants) and not a single employee inside was wearing a mask.

and i'm sorry, when you own the building, there's a special place in hell for restauranteurs who close with absolutely no notice, especially ones who are 'such vital members of the community.'

they are welcome to buy the license they sold back for the going rate.

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Voting closed 7

john tyler deserves everything that is about to come to him. what an absolutely scummy individual. he literally locked out the staff of mavericks - which was actually successful.

https://www.reddit.com/r/boston/comments/u881ym/former_management_of_pop...

then he swindled a second restauranteur to spend a ton of money to renovate the space and then locked THEM out before they even opened. then there was a third one and apparently fourth? the only common denominator is john tyler.

not a surprise at all that their latest venture failed. as long as john tyler's name is on the building, no one in eastie wants to set forth in that building.

take the building too.

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Voting closed 12