According to political legend, a Yankee legislature in the 1930s didn’t trust Boston’s Irish politicians to regulate bars and restaurants — and imposed a cap on the number of liquor licenses in the city. Those limits, which require legislative action to change, now stand at about 350 beer-and-wine licenses and 675 full liquor licenses. The numbers have crept up a little over time, but not enough to keep up as Boston’s economy and population recovered from the miasma of the 1970s and as the American gastronomic scene matured.
These limits have bizarre results: Boston ranks only 119th among the state’s cities and towns in the number of liquor licenses per resident. In this regard, the center of New England’s convention and tourism industry — the third-most walkable major American city, and an economic hub whose population is said to double every workday — ranks just behind quaint little Ayer. The artificial scarcity creates a seller’s market for existing Boston licenses; buyers may pay $50,000 for a beer and wine license, news reports indicate, and from about $200,000 to as much as $450,000 for a full liquor license.