Even though there’s a much greater demand for nightlife in Boston and Cambridge than in quiet rural areas of Massachusetts, state law dictates that bars in communities across Massachusetts must close no later than 2 a.m. That rule, which is more than adequate for most cities and towns, is too restrictive in the state’s urban core. The state Senate recently approved a budget amendment, filed by Senator Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester at Mayor Walsh’s request, that would give communities served by the MBTA’s late-night service the option of allowing alcohol sales after 2 a.m. The measure deserves the support of a House-Senate conference committee and the Legislature as a whole.
As Boston draws visitors from faraway time zones and seeks to accommodate night owls, a later nightlife becomes an important amenity. It sends a message that people with unorthodox schedules can live a full life here, offers transplants and recent graduates more opportunities to meet friends and potential dates, and provides a forum for the kind of casual schmoozing that fuels many creative enterprises. People who want to stay out longer at thumping dance clubs deserve the opportunity, but there are also social and economic benefits to later hours at lower-key venues where patrons can hear each other talk.
Perhaps paradoxically, allowing later hours can also be helpful in addressing some of the problems often thought to be associated with nightlife: By giving bar patrons more time to trickle out on their own, rather than pushing everybody out at once, later hours can actually discourage rowdiness. The revival of late night MBTA service, coupled with the emergence of smartphone-based transportation systems, means local residents can stay out later without getting behind the wheel.
Still, the fate of Dorcena Forry’s amendment is uncertain: None of the lawmakers on the conference committee comes from a community served by late-night T, so they might be wary of including the provision in the final legislation. But the measure is a modest step. It would allow — but not require — Boston and other nearby communities to opt for later hours. Including the measure in the budget legislation would be a victory for the principle of local control — and would help Boston in its broader efforts to accommodate a 24-hour world.