Later Hours for Bars?

Update on November 4, 2015 — Summary Position and Hearing Notice

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to comment here or to contact me by email or phone about his legislation. This is a local bill and, especially on local issues, I am heavily guided by the expressed preferences of my constituents.

From all the feedback we have received, it is clear that opinion is divided on the issue of extending bar hours, both among the public in Boston and among my colleagues who represent Boston. It is also clear that there are a number of possible approaches to how to roll out extended hours.

This legislation was filed for the City of Boston, although it is worded broadly to apply to other municipalities. The legislation gives little structure to the extension of hours and regulatory streamlining — leaving the issues entirely up to the affected municipalities. Based on the feedback we have received, the wiser course would seem to be for the Mayor and the City Council to work together to develop a more limited approach with broader support within the city. On the foundation of that support, the legislature would be in a position to pass legislation implementing that approach. My recommendation to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure will be to take no action on the bill.

Formal Hearing is set for November 10 at 1PM in Room A-2 in the State House. If you do wish to testify, it is a good idea to arrive a little early and sign up. Witnesses are usually called more or less in the order that they sign up.

Add-on on December 19, 2015

Pretty much absent from the conversation below was a discussion of the public health impacts of a change in bar hours. Limitation of bar hours is part of the panoply of rules that we have in place to prevent harm from alcohol abuse. When and if this issue is revisited by the City Council or the legislature, we should consider the evidence from other jurisdiction as to whether later bar hours can increase various kinds of harms.

Update on July 14, 2015

I was alerted by a constituent that 24/7 language had been tucked in as Section 205 of the pending draft of the municipal modernization bill. I was able to prevent this from going through without full vetting. Instead, there will be a study of the concept.

I’ve received questions about Senate 127, An Act Modernizing the Business Licensing Process (and the identical House companion bill, House 161).

I was pleased to sponsor this bill for the Mayor, because I think it will help some of the city’s neighborhoods become more vital, while at the same time continuing to allow other neighborhoods to express their preferences for less activity.

The aspect of the bill most likely to raise concerns for people is the provision that would allow a municipality to grant or modify licenses to bars to stay open past two AM. Currently, the statewide alcohol licensing rules prohibit any bar from being open between 2AM and 8AM, regardless of local preferences. The change would permit municipalities inside the MBTA service area to decide to grant later licenses.

On this point, the City has stated:

If this legislation is approved, the City would conduct a public process to determine potential locations for a pilot program to explore whether a post-2 a.m. model works in Boston. Any establishment within a pilot program area that applies for a later closing time would be subject to the same community process that is currently in place for licensees, who wish to modify their liquor license agreement.

The bill is just at an early stage and I look forward to your input. The bill does need vetting and I welcome all concerns. Nothing about it is set in stone. It is tentatively scheduled for an initial public hearing on 11/10/15 at 1:00 p.m. in the statehouse.

Below, please find additional explanation authored by Mayor Walsh’s administration. Thank you to Kaitlin Passararo on the Mayor’s team for providing these materials.

Problem: In an attempt to grow and support our small business community, the City of Boston is committed to streamlining the licensing and permitting process. This process will eliminate duplication and unnecessary steps while also maintaining the robust community process we require in the City of Boston for all business establishments. In many instances, however, State Law prohibits the City from taking innovative steps to reform the regulatory process and makes no distinction between a small business and larger chain establishments. This one-size-fits-all licensing model acts as a hindrance to business development in our neighborhoods.

What Would S.127/H.161 Accomplish?

  1. Provide local discretion to eliminate certain licenses that are antiquated such as those for bowling alleys and billiard tables. This portion of the legislation also provides discretion to municipalities to waive the live and non-live entertainment licensing requirements for small establishments on a case by case basis, with community input, for such things as background music or having a single performer at a coffee shop. H.127/H.161 is one part of the Mayor’s larger strategy to better support small businesses in the City of Boston. To date, this strategy includes:
    • The launch of a new permitting system in October of 2015 that will make the process quicker, easier, and more predictable
    • The creation of a separate Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) process for small businesses, doubled the hearing capacity for ZBA applications, which reduced wait times for ZBA hearings by four months
    • Making businesses such as art galleries or bakeries (low-impact) allowed uses in the zoning code in all business districts
  2. Allow municipalities served by the MBTA to allow bars and restaurants to stay open past 2 a.m. should they chose to adopt such a provision. If this legislation is approved, the City would conduct a public process to determine potential locations for a pilot program to explore whether a post-2 a.m. model works in Boston. Any establishment within a pilot program area that applies for a later closing time would be subject to the same community process that is currently in place for licensees, who wish to modify their liquor license agreement.

The Mayor’s office also supplied this Section-by-Section analysis of the bill:

  • Section One: Allows municipalities, served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, to be exempt from the state law that prohibits the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.
  • Section Two: Allows municipalities to eliminate the Common Victuallers (CV) license requirement for non-alcohol establishments.
  • Section Three: Allows municipalities to eliminate specialty licenses for billiard tables and bowling alleys.
  • Section Four: Allows municipalities to eliminate specialty licenses for automatic amusement devices.
  • Section Five: Allows municipalities to set a maximum capacity for establishments that charge admission under which live and non- entertainment licenses are not required.
  • Section Six: Allows municipalities to set a maximum capacity for food service or alcohol establishments under which live and non- entertainment licenses are not required.
  • Section Seven: Allow municipalities to eliminate specialty licenses for fortune tellers.

For more background on the various licenses required in the City (and, implicitly, the motivation for streamlining them) see this explanatory document also prepared by the Walsh administration.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

110 replies on “Later Hours for Bars?”

  1. All these seem like excellent ideas. The Mayor deserves and receives my thanks. As do you for co-sponsoring.

  2. I think this should be passed. Closing bars at 2 forces people to drink more, faster. Extending hours would allow people to consume over a longer time period and allow their body to process it, rather than constricting the time frame.

  3. I think that bars should close past 2 am because I agree that people drink faster and are more in a hurry when they close at 2. It would also offer more work hours for people in the city. A great solution would be to confine the hours in which drinks are sold.

  4. I fully support this bill. It will help bring in more business and allow Boston to be considered more of an international city and hub of business. I don’t see it negatively affecting neighborhoods, as it could actually cut down on people drinking quickly to fit it all in before 2pm- or really 1:45 or earlier when last call actually happens. I think things could actually be less rowdy.

  5. I like the longer hours.

    Relaxing the licensing seems like it could spur innovation, though I guess I see the licensing process more as a way to suspend a poorly behaving business in the case it becomes a nuisance or problems arise. What mechanism will there be to hold businesses accountable for bad behavior in lieu of suspending a license?

  6. There is nothing good happen after 2am, boston is a great ad safe city c bars stay open till 2 am only. This will only increase crimes and drunk people and disrupted the peace of Boston. Don’t try to sell this bill for helping small business on the price of destroying a lot of lives. Another political cheap bill.

  7. As a person who has been to many places in both the US and abroad where alcohol is sold past 2AM, and a resident of Brighton, I support this initiative. It’s clearly a non-issue in other municipalities, so I support our own municipalities ability to make the decision for themselves.

  8. I wholeheartedly support small businesses and believe in giving further opportunities to grow and expand; I do not believe in allowing bars to stay open past 2 AM in the City of Boston.

    One must consider the residents of the city when making decisions such as this. Much of my family lives in the heart of the Back Bay, myself included. It is extraordinarily disruptive to have bar is letting out at 2 AM as it is. The last thing that we need is to have people outside loitering and smoking cigarettes even further into the night. I can tell you that the smoke coming up from the cigarettes and the noise that comes from the revelers makes life in this city more difficult.

    Not dissimilar to the Boston 2024 proposal ( specifically using the historical Boston common as a volleyball site,) I think that the Mayor should focus more on his constituents that support the city with their taxes. I am not saying that every resident of the city of Boston is not important, simply that one must use common sense when making decisions that affect residents who are paying the highest taxes. It is very easy for us to move elsewhere. If residents start fleeing, property values go down and assessments go down. Therefore property taxes go down and you are in a budgetary constraint.

    My personal opinion is to focus more on the school system. Focus more on affordable housing. Definitely focus on the problem of homelessness in the city and the transportation department’s failures. Bars are open late enough and we have so many students in the city. Let them focus on their studies and 2 AM is perfectly late enough to stay out each night of the week.

  9. Dear Senator,
    Can we please get some specifics here? Which neighborhoods would be “enlivened” by allowing people to get drunk till all hours of the morning? I find that bars generally denigrate a neighborhood. Anyone drinking at 3 in the morning will not enhance any neighborhood that I can think of.

    May we know which bars or areas are petitioning for this burden on the neighbors? It’s all very mysterious, which also makes me suspicious. I live in Cleveland Circle, and, as you are aware, we are saddled with Mary Ann’s is both an eye sore and a source of troublesome, loud, drunken behavior. This concerns me very much to think sites that are already a problem become worse.

    This discussion needs much more transparent.

    Thank you for considering my opinion.

    Janet Kenney
    Strathmore Road

  10. I think this would be a great way to increase revenue for local establishments, and also improve Boston’s image as a destination for young people. With a 2am closing time, Boston will often be seen as a younger sibling to NYC and other world-class cities.

  11. If other communities across the nation have made closing times later than 2am work given many, and sometimes even more, problems than those that the Boston area already faces, we can certainly make it work. Obviously some residents will not like this concept and we must factor in their concerns into this dialogue. Still, I believe that this will, at least in part, help the city and the area in the long run.

  12. NO. The answer is NO. To increase profit for bars means more drunks, more accidents, more fights. Being near a train means nothing. Adding hours to street fighting, violence and noise does nothing for any community, its not all about money! Nothing good happens after midnight–golden rule.

    1. Have you been out in NYC or Miami after 2 am? It is certainly much safer than Boston after 2 am…..

  13. NO. I agree with previous commentator: “more drunks, more accidents, more fights.” (also more noise)

  14. I wholeheartedly approve of this proposed legislation. In order to compete with cities across America, antiquated licenses like those on pool tables should be done away with, and businesses offering to stay open later and generate more money and tax revenue should be encouraged to do so.

    Going forward, I’d hope Senator Brownsberger would support re-instituting happy hour, as well as ending the restriction on liquor licenses in the city of Boston, which merely drive up costs and enrich a few holders of the licenses.

  15. I think this is an excellent idea. Other major cities in the U.S. have longer bar hours and its time for Boston to follow. We have a hard time retaining college students post-graduation and an extended social scene will help elevate that.

  16. I think this is a great idea. There are many other cities that have longer bar hours and we have lots of college students. It would boost the social scene immensely.

  17. I think this is a perfectly fine idea, but I’m more concerned with legalizing happy hour. Why should people continue to be paying $6 for a glass of beer at 5:30 PM on a Monday?

  18. While I rarely agree with the Mayor, I support bars being able to be open later but not just in the seaport. I think all neighborhoods should have equal opportunity to expand their businesses/hours. Coupled with later MBTA hours, this could turn Boston into a great city instead of someplace so restricted that people don’t bother to go out…

  19. It’s a great idea! We need to move Boston forward, even extending until 3 AM will really help. If Boston really wants to be a world class city, it has to do thing like this..

  20. With Boston’s largest population of people in the age-range of 25-34 (21% according to the US 2000 Census), this seems appropriate and frankly, necessary.

    I think that piloting the program in the Seaport district is a sharp move – to drive more people and business to an up and coming area of Boston.

    Thank you Senator Brownsberger!

    1. This is a matter of fact acknowledgement that people in the age range of 25-34 are heavily into drinking, and that laws should be changed to enable their predilection in that regard. Beautiful (not).

  21. I support allowing certain establishments to stay open past 2 a.m. It is part of making Boston a world-class city. Out of concern for safety and accessibility, we also need to look into having the MBTA run later too.

  22. I think this is a good idea. Letting cities/towns set their own rules is a good thing. With new services such as Lyft/Uber making transportation much simpler. One thing I would like to add to this or future legislation. The current rules for fake IDs greatly punish bars if they have people use a fake ID that is out of state versus an in state Fake Id which is insanity. What the state should do is collaborate with State and Federal law enforcement and build a master ID list. The purpose of this list could be a simple ID digital access point that bars could access. The goal would be to allow people to purchase alcohol with the following forms of ID from:
    All US states/territories , all Canadian Provinces/territories, an EU drivers licenses. This would help prevent the embarrassing situation where out of town business travelers/tourists can get a drink without having to carry their passport.

  23. This bill sounds like a fantastic idea! The current restrictions on bar closing times and licenses for bowling allies and pool tables is illogical and restrictive to our economy. I stand behind this bill 100%!

    I understand that certain residential neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill and the South End would not want later bar hours, but the Theater District, Seaport, and Faneuil Hall (among others) are perfect areas for late night bars and restaurants.

    When I explain these restrictions (among many other ridiculous laws in Massachusetts i.e., no happy hour and no liquor store sales on certain holidays), to people that are not from the area, I am quite embarrassed and they usually react in near disbelief. There are so many changes that Boston and Massachusetts needs to make to improve our economy, culture and reputation. This new bill is a great step in that direction and I pray that it will become law.

  24. Hello Bill, you are doing a great job! Downtown Boston and the Seaport, Hotels (for their guests) and Private Clubs may be a place to start. Neighborhoods with large ADULT taxpayer, voting residents is NOT APPROPRIATE for so many reasons. In regard to the MBTA: Your site states: “Currently, the statewide alcohol licensing rules prohibit any bar from being open between 2AM and 8AM, regardless of local preferences. The change would permit municipalities inside the MBTA service area to decide to grant later licenses.” That statement is ridiculous. The MBTA can’t manage it’s finances and taxpayers whether or not they use the MBTA are already burdened with providing infrastructure with greater and greater requirements every year to support the colleges. Maybe you should expend your efforts introducing a bill requiring the colleges to buy an annual MBTA pass for each of it’s students since they tend to use the T significantly more than permanent residents. The vast majority of people looking for 3am and 4am alcohol are students. Maybe the colleges can provide all night drinking parlors on campus not in our neighborhoods. Kind Regards!

  25. Neighborhoods that become more vital by selling alcohol after 2 a.m.? My neighborhood doesn’t need that kind of vitality. Doesn’t this simply mean more drunk drivers, violence, decreased productivity in the office at 9 a.m. and at school, and a lot of other bad things? I don’t think this makes a lot of sense. Look at the research; it’s out there, if you want to find it.

  26. Balancing multiple interests and arguments, I’d say that overall this is a good idea. Let’s try later closing hours in some neighborhoods on a pilot basis and see what the effects are. Having a few neighborhoods with a vibrant late-night scene makes sense. Just make sure that they neighborhood residents get to have their say, which this proposal would give them through the existing process.

  27. I am acutely aware of the 1 in 3 demographic. As a senior who likes to sleep at night, I am not hopeful that neighborhoods near bar areas will be able to block a 2 am closing if it becomes an option, as the younger demographic will almost certainly favor it. So I am opposed.

  28. Plus of course all this bill does is give Boston (back) its freedom of action. On those terms the bill seems so obviously right that I find it hard to imagine a meaningful opposition. Clearly the city is the right level to be making these decisions.

  29. I think this is probably fine for some neighborhoods. However, since this is another initiative designed to make us a “world class city” (which seems to mean (a) more like NYC and (b) more friendly to people in their twenties with significant disposable incomes) with the presumed goal of increasing revenue for the city, why not spread the wealth to neighborhoods that don’t want to become similarly “world class” by imposing a small tax/surcharge on these neighborhoods/establishments OR make the license to stay open cost enough money that it would generate enough money for the city without discouraging Legal Seafood from serving drunk tourists or tech bros or whomever until 4 in the morning.

    There should, in general, be a “world class city” tax on all of the recent initiatives (Millennium Place, etc.) designed primarily lure capital to our city, that is limited to funding the MBTA or BPS only.

  30. I’m all for allowing later alcohol hours in primarily non-residential districts, or at least where the residents live in large apartment buildings insulated from noise and mayhem and well served by the city in transportation and cleaning. This will make Boston more vibrant and interesting, and give people a place to go after shows in the theater district.
    I’m not in favor of it for a neighborhood like Brighton, where groups of loud singing drunks are easily heard almost every night as soon as the bars close by people in houses, triple-deckers and small apartment buildings. I sleep with earplugs winter and summer. Because of the close proximity of bars to our housing, we also have a huge problem with litter and general mess, including sidewalk vomit. Longer drinking hours means more drinking, and I’m afraid we’d end up stepping over bodies in the morning. In addition, our neighborhood is not served that well by the MBTA, and is quite hard to get into and out of late at night, since bus routes shut down early.
    Thanks for listening!

  31. Senator Brownsberger,

    Let us be clear, this bill would not help small businesses since bars and restaurants with a bar are mainly big businesses now. Neighborhoods don’t need bars with longer hours to produce more drunks and we certainly don’t need the bad consequences of more people drinking until late in the neighborhood.
    In the city of Boston with extended young adults and college students, we are going to have more drunken young people who sing, yell and scream in the residential area close to bars and disturbing more families during late night hours and early mornings. Why is it in the past few years we keep forgetting that Boston is very much a family and residential city and it was meant that way since the beginning and we would like very much to keep it that way?
    I am not against progression however, I am against causing our society to have more drunks around the city for longer hours.
    Shall we focus more on the issues that will help the safety of our state? We could also focus on fixing MBTA’s issues rather than putting more burdens on the institution that we are trying so hard and spending so much money to make safer and more useable for all the residents of our state? How about having more consideration for the residents of Boston who live in the city, thus, the ones who would suffer the most by tolerating the unwanted results of extending bar hours? Please do not support this bill. Thank you!

  32. Despite similar unsuccessful past efforts to allow for later closing times (many met with seemingly reflexive opposition), I am fully in favor of the judicious extension of food & entertainment venue hours, to help Boston truly join the ranks of so-called “world-class” cities, many of which allow more all night shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, etc. There are already, I believe, ‘quiet hours’ regulations in the city; this would not change, and merely requires police to enforce existing laws to make sure that later hours does not translate to waking sleeping citizens. But Boston needs more nightlife, and not just for young drunken college co-eds. Many people like to stay out past 2 a.m., and should have a variety of options to do so.

    Thanks for your efforts to make this happen, and you have my support.


    Jamie Simpson
    Boston, MA

  33. Hi Will,

    I am wary of establishments serving alcohol “served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, to be exempt from the state law that prohibits the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants between the hours of 2 a.m.”

    2 AM is enough.

    The real issue is too many bars now especially in Allston/Brighton.

    It is rich that our “AA” mayor who will not support Medical Marijuana wants to have later hours for more alcohol consumption.

  34. I am very reluctant to support later closing hours for bars, even as a pilot program. I don’t see how opening our streets to more boisterous, drinking people at 3 or 4 a.m. enhances city life, certainly not for working residents. It seems to me that too many times programs are permitted that while they may bring revenue to certain business people, they burden the residents of the city, the ones who pay the taxes. I give as an example, the now withdrawn effort to bring the Olympics to our city. Then there is the bone head idea of turning the streets in the Seaport District into a road race track. Yes, some of us choose to live in a city and certainly there are inconveniences associated with that choice but really (?) do we need more drinking, road races and the accompanying costs to municipal services at the expense of stable resident population?

  35. This is a great idea to update antiquated state law to reflect current times. Additionally, it allows for local/municipal governments to control local affairs like commercial and business licenses – something that the state government should have limited involvement with.

    Section 1 concerning later bar hours – The MBTA service area restriction seems bizarre to me. Any further explanation for this provision?

    1. Reference to the MBTA service area is really just a way of identifying the more urban parts of the state.

      It also resonates with the concept of providing late night transportation, but that may or may not be realistic.

  36. I oppose longer bar hours for Boston. As a four-year resident of Allston I have personally witnessed the aesthetic, economic, and social improvements to my neighborhood following the closing of a problematic bar on Commonwealth Avenue and the subsequent opening of a specialty grocer in its place. Moreover, there is significant evidence that increased availability of alcohol leads to increased overall and problem drinking, which then leads to increased second hand effects such as assault or problems at school or at work. As both a resident of Allston and a health professional I cannot support this proposal: the negative social and physical effects of increased alcohol availability on our entire community are simply not worth the financial gain for a small proportion of the business community.

  37. I support the resolution. Myself along with many of my neighbor increasingly work non traditional work hours. Longer opening hours would afford many city residents the opportunity to engage in the nightlife that our city offers.

  38. Great idea. With increased MBTA hours and an abundance of taxis and Uber cars on the road, it is time for establishments to catch up with the times. This, of course, will not happen in every bar in town, but there are certain establishments and communities that will thrive with later hours.
    Hopefully this will pass and Happy Hour will not be far behind

  39. I like this idea. The state rules are too restrictive for those areas that are clearly entertainment zones and not residential. As long as the community process is preserved, I think this is an improvement.

  40. No strong opinion on this bill. Nothing wrong with trying this option but the T and taxis have to be available to take people home.

    If we aren’t going to extend T hours and make no additional taxi capacity available I would not support the bill. It is already quite difficult to get a taxi during the late hours so extending drinking hours will only make it worse.

  41. I fully support this. I think the Mayor will be good in conducting reviews etc before acting and likely the waterfront would be the first neighborhood for at least a pilot to see how it went. To assume the City would go ahead in many other neighborhoods without input from residents is absurd.

  42. Hi, Thank you for the email and including more residents in this process. My family is all for the study; I don’t see a ton of downsides and agree that many areas of the City could use the boost. My one concern is how late the new closing times would be. I would probably not support new hours past 4am in predominantly residential neighborhoods.

    Again, many thanks for including us in this outreach.

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