For all of its cultural and academic appeal, Boston has long been weighed down by its puritanical late-night scene. The city suffers from a dearth of after-hours locales in its farther-flung neighborhoods and communities of color. The T shuts down at 1 a.m. And happy-hour drink specials were banned 40 years ago.
Now, the Wu administration is taking steps to revamp that reputation.
On Wednesday, the city debuted a new position — director of nightlife economy — to oversee Boston after dark. And to fill it? Corean Reynolds, the former director of economic inclusion at The Boston Foundation and a longtime advocate for business owners of color. She will start on March 6.
During a virtual press conference, Reynolds said her priorities lie in increasing the amount of nighttime options across all 23 neighborhoods of the city, improving after-hours transportation, and boosting public safety for those who venture through Boston at night — both for leisure and for work.
“I want Boston and its nightlife economy to have a sense of belonging. I want people to feel as if there’s space for them ... and by them,“ she added. “I hope that I can be that connector, that convener, that liaison in between this administration, the community, and the businesses.”
Segun Idowu, the city’s chief of economic opportunity and inclusion, said Reynolds’s work within the economic opportunity and inclusion cabinet will extend beyond bars. She will also be charged with involving families and older residents in street life after the sun sets and advancing Wu’s vision for a 24-hour neighborhood downtown.
“Her goal will be to focus on the macro-level on how we create long-term solutions to have vibrant and sustainable nightlife here in the city, and how we’re redefining nightlife to be more than clubs,” he said.
Idowu added that the job will likely be expanded to include a team that oversees nightlife in Boston.
Reynolds most recently spent seven years at The Boston Foundation as the youngest person there with a director title, according to her LinkedIn profile. During her tenure, Reynolds worked to narrow the racial wealth gap by investing more than $13 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and prioritizing lending to Black and Latino-owned businesses.
She originally hails from the South Side of Chicago and attended Michigan State University to study urban planning. Reynolds previously served as a committee member for Amplify Latinx PowerUp, Center for Women and Enterprise, and the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund.
An Afro Latina with family roots in Puerto Rico, Reynolds was recognized on El Mundo Boston’s Latino 30 under 30 list in 2022.
Cait Brumme, chief executive of the MassChallenge startup program, said Reynolds’s focus on equity and economic development — coupled with her gracious personality — makes her a good fit for the role. The nonprofit coordinated several grants supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs with Reynolds through the Boston Foundation.
“Corean is warm but also direct, which I think is a unique combination,” Brumme said. “She has a great sense of humor, and she really wants to know where you’re coming from and how she can help.”
The creation of the cabinet-level position could infuse energy into Boston’s nightlife scene, which critics say pales in comparison to cities like New York and Chicago. The majority of bars and nightclubs in Boston are still cloistered downtown, though business owners have made strides opening more watering holes further away — see Park 54 in Hyde Park and Next Door Speakeasy in East Boston.
And nighttime businesses and restaurants have found liquor licenses to be a sore spot for years. The precious commodity sells for over $400,000 apiece, and most licenses can be found in whiter and more affluent neighborhoods at present. A 2022 report found that just 2 percent of on-premise liquor license holders identify as Black in a city where Black residents make up 24 percent of the population.
The question now is how much power Reynolds will wield over those longstanding problems. Oversight of the T and liquor licenses falls under the purview of Beacon Hill, beyond the control of city officials. Still, some city councilors began pushing state legislators last year to allow them to distribute hundreds more licenses, specifically in neighborhoods of color, to level the playing field.
Scott Feldman, marketing manager for City Winery, sees the appointment of Reynolds as an opportunity for Boston to break out of its rut.
“Boston is one of those old-timey kind of cities where there are lots of rules in place that do not exist in other towns,” he said. “So, the concept of the position is tremendous. The T shuts down early. But there is a lot of opportunity there if people can get to venues, and venues could stay open for extended hours.”
With that flexibility, Feldman added, City Winery could book double shows and bring in more money from alcohol sales — a saving grace after the slower years of the pandemic.
Olrie Roberts, owner of ZaZ Restaurant in Hyde Park (and soon, a bar in the Seaport), hopes Reynolds’s role elevates the voices of residents and business owners of color in conversations about creating diverse spaces and expanding liquor licensing.
“The person responsible should be open-minded and have a different approach and a way of doing things that are inclusive to all cultures and races in the city,” Roberts said. “The city is becoming, more and more, a melting pot.”