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Boston Licensing Board to host ‘emergency’ hearings following complaints about COVID-19 rule-breaking

The virtual hearings will take place this week with beer garden operators, and licensees in Allston, Brighton, the Seaport, and South Boston.

The Licensing Board's virtual hearings will be similar to ones held in June for North End restaurant owners.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

When out on the town, people are apparently getting too close for the city’s comfort.

The Boston Licensing Board is holding a series of online hearings this week with liquor license holders across the city to address “numerous complaints” lodged against bars and restaurants for failing to comply with certain COVID-19 regulations.

The mandatory emergency meetings are being held with all businesses with a liquor license for on-premises alcohol consumption in the Seaport and South Boston; any establishment with special licenses to host beer gardens or operate large outdoor extensions; and all establishments in Allston and Brighton with a liquor license, officials said. There is also a meeting for anyone with a “club license, veteran’s license, or temporary C.V. License.”

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Officials said the board and the Inspectional Services Department have received complaints about people not practicing social distancing, business owners not monitoring patrons who are waiting in line, and not adhering to rules around smoking and pets on patios and other areas where food is served, among other issues.

The five hearings to address each group will take place via Zoom on Thursday and Friday.

Those who fail to attend their hearing this week could be subject to disciplinary action regarding licenses granted by the board or the Inspectional Services Department, officials warned in a public notice.

A board spokesperson said in a statement that the information hearings are meant to “engage in a dialogue with licensees, discuss complaints received, and also answer any questions.”

“The vast majority of licensees in the city are good operators and are working hard to adapt their policies and procedures based on the incoming public health metrics and advisories,” the statement said.

The virtual hearings are similar to one held in June for North End restaurant owners. At that time, the city said it had received dozens of complaints about safety violations in the densely packed neighborhood, specifically about new outdoor dining spots along the streets and sidewalks.

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During the hearing, officials said they planned to crack down on COVID-19 violations by conducting random checks.

“Your right to occupy a city space for outdoor dining is a privilege,” said Kathleen Joyce, chairwoman of the Licensing Board, at the time. “With that privilege comes responsibility, and the responsibility includes following our rules and regulations — and not just some of them.”

The hearings follow Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement last week that the state would delay its reopening plans and implement a series of steps to curb the spread of coronavirus, including reducing the limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 people to 50.

Baker also said officials will focus on ensuring that bars aren’t “masquerading” as restaurants by serving light snacks with alcoholic beverages. As of Tuesday, alcoholic drinks can only be served at restaurants if accompanied by food prepared on site, according to the latest guidelines.

Several breweries temporarily closed their patio spaces this week in order to comply with Baker’s new rules on food and drinks.

On Monday, the Licensing Board sent a letter with guidance about the state’s new rules.

The letter advised restaurant and bar owners to avoid the formation of lines and to “ensure that patrons waiting to be seated are wearing masks and social distancing.”

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The letter, sent by Lesley Delaney Hawkins, the board’s general counsel, said the rules “will be strictly enforced by the Board and the Boston Police Department.”

“Claims of ignorance of the law, the Legislation, or the advisory are not a defense,” the letter said.

Complaints on the BOS:311 online reporting service that date back a month show people filing grievances about a long line at a Seaport beer garden.

“ZERO social distancing at the line outside,” the complaint said. “At least 100 people crowded together.”

Another complaint last month said people were “all jammed up on one another with no social distancing” while waiting in line at a Seaport beer garden. The complaint included a picture of people standing close together without wearing masks.

In other neighborhoods cited in the Licensing Board’s hearing notices, people reported businesses not following social distancing rules and positioning outdoor tables “right on the sidewalk where people try to walk,” or allowing “drinking outside of patio space, people at bar and crowding.”

Brittany Bowker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.