Night owls need a place to roost

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • September 22, 2016

At Issue: Boston’s late night cravings

Our Take: A demonstrated hunger, but no infrastructure to support it

Where are you on a Saturday night at 3 a.m.? If you live in Boston, it’s likely you’re either in your own home or someone else’s. That’s because this city—which holds nicknames such as “The Hub of the Universe”—shuts down hours earlier than some of its residents would prefer. Bars close at 2 a.m., MBTA trains stop running at 12:30 a.m., and few restaurants serve food after midnight. For a city that touts itself as a haven for college students and a mature bar crowd, very little is available for those demographics.

But there’s clearly a demand. Last Saturday, the Museum of Fine Arts rocked around the clock for the first of four all-night events, appropriately dubbed #mfaNOW Overnights. The Boston Globe reported on the immensely popular night out, which included art exhibits, dancing, food trucks, yoga, and even a 3:40 a.m. “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along—so it’s no wonder 7,000 people showed up. The success of the unprecedented event could pave the way for others of its kind—creating more options for those who want a night on the town in a city that usually hits the pillow early. There is a desire for more late activities that could be tapped into.

Students are not the only ones to notice the lack of after-hours entertainment in Boston; in 2014, Mayor Marty Walsh created a late night task force. “We have the opportunity to create the kind of nightlife that visitors expect in a world-class city,” he said in an oft-quoted statement. The significance of this statement is not just the desire to improve the nightlife, but that Walsh (and other city officials) are aware of the perception of Boston as a lesser city because of its antiquated laws. In a 2003 study by the Boston Consulting Group, it was revealed that Boston only has a 50 percent retention rate of recent graduates. The amount of talented individuals that Boston colleges foster is staggering, and the fact that half of these individuals would rather move elsewhere does not bode well for the city. The perception of Boston as a boring city likely has a profound effect on retention of recent grads as the actual late night entertainment options that exist.

Even the Gray Lady knows what our hearts desire—the New York Times reported on Boston’s lagging nightlife last spring when the MBTA pulled the plug on late-night T service. Its board voted 4-0 to scrap the two-year pilot program, citing high operating costs and low ridership. It’s surprising that few took advantage of the train’s owl hours, but why would the city cut the service while attempting to vamp up its nightlife? Harriet the Spy might speculate that no one was out late simply because there wasn’t a whole lot to do after the sun goes down in Boston.

It seems the city is being pulled in opposite directions—backwards, toward its Puritan roots and nostalgia for a once-quaint American town; and forward, in its aspiration to be a world-class city. Perhaps students need to tip the scale. Take note: our population is considerably responsible for tugging the median age to 31.3, according to the 2014 estimate from the American Community Survey (New York City’s is 35.7). We have power in our numbers, and it’s high time we advocate for a change in Boston’s laws to extend entertainment, transportation, and invitations into the hours after dark. Nightlife is a selling point for a city, and if Boston wants to court new kids, ahem, young adults, it needs to get out its Swiffer and start dusting.

Ultimately, we want to emphasize that our desire for a Boston nightlife is about far more than extending last call at a favorite bar. Being able to have a Long Island Iced Tea during a long Saturday night is great, but what we’re petitioning for is more than that. We want to mold Boston into the kind of city we can see ourselves thriving in post-grad. And that’s not just about staying out late; it’s about viewing Boston as a realistic city for us to live in throughout our 20s and 30s. Even if we wanted to, how could we feasibly stay if the city doesn’t sustain us socially, fulfilling an intrinsic desire? Both Boston and its students deserve better.