Liquor Licenses Show Win, Loss for Main Street Establishments

By Seth Daniel

In the liquor license bingo that played out at City Hall last week, one Charlestown establishment scored a diagonal win while another went home empty handed.

Paolo’s Trattoria gained a full alcohol restaurant license from the Boston Licensing Board on Thursday, Oct. 6, for it’s 251 Main St. location – allowing the venture to expand to more of a bistro format and rename it Monument 251. The location has been in business on Main Street for quite some time, and the new license will help it expand and stretch out. The long-time wood-fired pizza restaurant has been closed since last summer for renovations, and no one was immediately available for comment on the new license which will apparently complement the renovations.

At the same time, though, owners of Sweet Rice – which took over for long-time staple Chow Thai earlier this year – went home without it’s new license. The establishment will continue to keep it’s beer and wine license.

A primary reason for the rejection was the emphasis on take-out and the short period of time having been in business as Sweet Rice. Owners of the restaurant weren’t immediately available for comment, but there was indication they were a little surprised by the rejection and unhappy with the result.

Both licenses were supported by the Mayor’s Office and were seen as good news for one, bad news for another and a loss for the overall Main Street business district – which many are now seeking to enliven with local restaurants in the same fashion that parts of Dorchester and Roslindale have done with their up-and-coming business districts.

That said, there were a handful of neighbors from Charlestown came out to oppose Monument 251 due to the expanded hours – going from 10 p.m. close to a 1 a.m. close.

The bigger picture in the licensing situation for local restaurants comes when the topic of liquor licenses have sparked a new conversation about creating a Main Streets district in Charlestown. The Town is in a unique situation due to the fact that it doesn’t qualify for the numerous neighborhood-specific licenses now being given out. That’s because by law those were reserved for economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and neighborhoods with a Main Streets district.

An example is in the restaurant heavy and affluent South End where a Main Streets district allowed one new restaurant to score liquor license on that neighborhood’s Washington Street.

Absent a Main Streets District and struggling economics, Charlestown’s business districts on Main Street and Bunker Hill Street are forced to compete with bigger neighborhoods like Back Bay, Downtown, North End and the Seaport for only five unrestricted, citywide licenses.

The only hope is to rely on the wisdom of the Licensing Board, and last Thursday, that wisdom did show through when Commissioners agreed establishments in Charlestown needed all the help they could get.

While granting that one license to the new Monument 251, the Board also denied licenses to the star-studded Wahlburgers Restaurant in Dorchester’s South Bay, and also an AMC Movie house in the same development. Other ventures in the Seaport, Brighton, North End and Chinatown were also sent away in favor of the license in areas like Charlestown. A total of nine requests from North End, Chinatown and the Seaport were rejected.

The new neighborhood liquor license program started three years ago, and on Sept. 1, the last of these released licenses – in addition to a smattering of new citywide licenses – were released by the state to Boston. Last Thursday was the first crack at that final batch of licenses, and the competition – as noted above – was stiff. Absent a Main Streets District, Charlestown will likely not get another crack at any Board-issued all alcohol liquor licenses due to it not qualifying for the neighborhood-specific licensing program. The only option would be to purchase a license on the open market, which can become very expensive and thwart many potential start-ups from taking the risk.

Many in City government, including Councilor Ayanna Pressley – who established the program three years ago, believe that local restaurants in business districts can enliven and activate stretches that have gone stale or dormant. Many point to the western portions of Main Street and Bunker Hill Street as perfect areas for such activation.

The Licensing Board apparently agreed with half of that argument last week.

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