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Jamaica Plain loses another liquor license to the Seaport, for a cineplex, but one JP pub helps secure its future by buying its building

The Boston Licensing Board last week approved plans by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to purchase the liquor license of the closed Canary Square in Jamaica Plain for the ten-screen movie complex it wants to open at 60 Seaport Blvd. - the fourth time in four years that a Seaport chain has taken a liquor license out of JP.

The board also voted to approve the financing plan that let the owners of the Jeannie Johnston pub on South Street in Jamaica Plain buy their building last year.

Canary Square, at South Huntington Avenue and Centre Street, closed in November. At the hearing last week on the proposed license sale, board Chairwoman Kathleen said Canary Square held an unrestricted license, which meant it could be sold anywhere in the city, rather than a neighborhood license, which would have had to be given back to the board after the restaurant closed.

The Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse movie chain would take over the cineplex left vacant when Showcase Cinema closed the location early in the pandemic.

If approved by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, the liquor license would be the fourth to leave Jamaica Plain for the Seaport since 2018, when the owners of the Drinking Fountain, which closed the year before, sold their license to a Seaport taco place.

In 2019, the owner of Doyle's sold his license to Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse on Fan Pier Boulevard.

In 2020, the owner of Bella Luna sold her license to a new hotel in the Raymond Flynn Marine Park (Bella Luna has since re-opened as the Haven, but that meant the closing of the original Haven on Perkins Street).

In a holdover from the days of anti-Irish animus in the legislature following the repeal of Prohibition, the number of liquor licenses in Boston remains set by the state legislature.

This has meant rapidly escalating prices on the open market for unrestricted licenses over the past couple of decades - now upwards of $400,000 for an all-alcohol license - because in recent years, the legislature has mostly ignored requests from the city to let it issue more licenses. The legislature did agree last month to let Boston issue five more licenses - but only for the Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner and the Bolling Building in Nubian Square.

Separately, the licensing board approved a financing agreement that let Jeanie Johnston owners Hank Kirchner and Eric Rubin buy the South Street building it's in, with financing from Berkshire Bank - with the pub's liquor license as collateral.

Joyce, who "enthusiastically" moved to approve the financing arrangement, said this shows how the unrestricted licensing system can work to help owners use their licenses to help secure their future - in this case, what she called "a great institution in this neighborhood."

Canary Square/Alamo hearing:


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Has anyone in the state legislature leadership publicly given a reason why the # of licenses in Boston should be controlled by the state and not the city?

So now Hyde Square loses the Canary Square license and the original Haven license unless new corporate owners want to pay +$400k or they can beg a new one from Beacon Hill?

I mean, it's a real nice retirement plan for Canary Square, Doyles, and the Drinking Fountain owners, but it screws over areas that aren't the seaport.

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1920's Suburbanites.

I am still befuddled how Boston reps and senators don't get the cap removed.

Actually, I am not befuddled. There is too much money involved in moving liquor licenses around by the connected.

It is a detriment to the people who live along Blue Hill Avenue where there are more packies than bars. Some people want to have a drink.

The state took over Boston's license number nearly a century ago (and also picked the police commissioner for years).

Tewksbury got 8 new licenses (8!) owing to population growth between 2010 and 2020. That's one license for every 375 people. With that logic Boston should have got 155 new licenses.

Call your reps. Call your senators. There is no need for the neighborhoods of Boston to lose the right to sell beer around the corner from your house because someone needs one during their 8th screening of Fast and Furious 16.

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In Provincetown we have more liquor licenses than we do year round residents. The Town gives them away like salt water taffy.

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The reason is some of the mega-groups that own a huge number of the corporate chains owning a significant portion of these licenses make political donations. Some Rep from Ayer or Canton or wherever doesn't give a shit one way or another if Boston is letting people drink - but if they're getting 1k in donations from Legal Sea Foods or whoever to vote no, they'll vote no.

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That is the cost on the grey market to buy from people who already begged one from the state. If/when the state creates new licenses there are just nominal fees to get it (if you can). After which it gains it's mega value.

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and if so, why doesn't it transfer to the new owner?

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But the same reason the owner of Bella Luna didn't hold onto her liquor license rather than keep it around until the Haven guy could buy it: They sold it (for the profit; while you're technically not supposed to just sit on a license after you close your place, the board has long been very lenient with license holders).

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restaurant and a bar, but if memory serves, you could have a pop before the show but not bring it into the theater with you.

The Alamo Drafthouse concept, a favorite with entertainment industry friends in L.A., lets you drink during the movie but also insists that you behave like an adult, i.e., no talking or texting on pain of ejection. It's a more child-free experience, too: no unaccompanied minors and limited shows where very young children are allowed to attend. It's not for everybody, but I'm looking forward to it.

That said, I've been ranting against the Boston liquor licensing system (most recently in the annual year-end Eater Boston series of interviews with local food writing pros) for years as something that drives bright young chefs out of town when they want to hang their own shingle. It's infuriating, and it's nuts.

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But you can't take the JP out of the liquor license.

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Would it be possible to do a ballot measure to remove the liquor license cap?

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