Extended last call could affect Emerson's urban campus

by Victoria Hulbert / Beacon Staff • January 28, 2015

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The inside of Sweet Water Tavern, a bar that would benefit from staying open late
The inside of Sweet Water Tavern, a bar that would benefit from staying open late

When many New Yorkers are just starting their Saturday nights, Boston’s bar patrons are usually paying the tab and heading home, thanks to a strictly enforced 2 a.m. last call. But a new proposal to keep restaurants open later has Emerson students wondering about the city’s nightlife possibilities.

Earlier this month, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh proposed legislation that, in short, calls for bars and restaurants to be able to stay open past 2 a.m. Walsh told Boston Magazine he believed extending the hours would let patrons linger and leave as they wanted, rather than all flooding the streets at the same hour after closing.

Junior Madison McGahan said she would appreciate longer hours.

“I don't really go out too often, but when I do I feel like 2:00 creeps up on you way too fast, so I would actually really enjoy the extended hours,” said McGahan, a journalism major.

With bars nestled between Emerson’s dorms, this could mean the college’s downtown campus will see more late-night activity.

“Returning [back to the dorms] from a party, we have to take the T, typically, so we get back just as the streets fill up with Ubers and taxis picking up drunken clubgoers,” said Jesse Buchter, a freshman communication studies major. “If [last call] was later we might avoid that.”

City bar owners face a complex regulatory environment. With happy hour drink specials banned statewide, Boston also requires bars to obtain a specific license before they allow patrons to dance; another license for live music; and another one for pool tables, dart boards, and arcade games. That’s on top of the already incredible price of a liquor license—nearly $400,000 upfront with an additional fee of approximately $3,000 a year. In Los Angeles, a liquor license currently costs $25,000.

Other major cities base the number of available liquor licenses on the city’s population, but Boston’s liquor licensing cap is set by a three-member board appointed by the governor. This cumbersome process dates back to the very start of the state; the Protestants didn’t trust the Irish Catholics who ran the government with the power of licensing.

Today, the availability of liquor licenses in Boston can also depend on the saturation of the neighborhood. Popular late night hangouts like Allston or the North End are nearly impossible areas for a new bar to obtain a license because of the already high volume.

“Every weekend at 2 a.m., streets turn into a disaster, because every place closes at the same time, so there aren't enough taxis and people stay on the streets,” said Ilana Cohen, a junior marketing communication major. “If people could decide at what time they want to go home, there wouldn't be chaos at 2 a.m. every weekend.”

The proposition would allow bars and restaurants to stay open until 3:30 a.m., extending a last call for alcohol until 2:30 a.m. Not only could this increase revenue for bars, but it could also lift Boston onto the same playing field as international cities like New York City and Chicago where the last call stands at 4 a.m., or European hubs like Paris and London, where last call doesn’t even exist.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that Bostonians have gotten their hopes up for something like this, though. Last year, talk of the similar proposition floated around the city until state lawmakers ultimately shot it down.

“I think the curfew extension is great to help boost the nightlife appeal in Boston,” said Norman Oliver, a junior journalism major. “It will only bring more revenue to the city. I totally support the city moving forward to compete with other world cities.”

For bar managers, there are pros and cons to the proposition.

Matthew Wiles, bartender and manager at Bukowski Tavern in Back Bay, said that although it could make Boston’s nightlife more vibrant, he didn’t know if the city was active enough to make the longer hours worthwhile.

“As much as it might increase some revenue,” Wiles said, “I think it would be more a negative than a positive because the kind of crowds we get past 2 a.m. are normally not the crowds we want, anyway.”