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At Globe Summit, nightlife takes center stage

George Sebastakis prepares a drink at Hecate, an underground speakeasy in Boston.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Three late-night leaders in Boston doubled down on the need to expand local nightlife — both in terms of access and inclusivity — at the Globe Summit on Thursday.

The panelists reiterated their desire for diverse ownership of after-hours venues, expanded public transportation, and intentional government intervention to help nightlife thrive.

Without that, the city will stay stuck in its dismal midnight reputation and lose people to other locales, said Chimel Idiokitas, the longtime DJ behind SILK the R&B Party, a monthly dance party at Big Night Live.

“Boston needs more options,” he added. “People should be able to say, there are 15 things happening in the city. I get to choose or I can jump around.”

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The discussion, titled “Can Boston Be Known For Its Nightlife?,” also featured Corean Reynolds, the city’s new director of nightlife economy, and Rob Eugene, the owner of Owner of Hue Boston. It was moderated by Jeneé Osterheldt, a culture columnist and deputy managing editor for culture, talent & development at the Globe.

Reynolds said city government is focused on demystifying the permitting process for late-night businesses, clearing the path for fresh faces in ownership. That, they hope, will translate to greater diversity in what the city can offer after-hours by elevating Black and Latino entrepreneurs and increasing the number of queer venues.

“There is a lack of ownership for queer people of color,” she said. “We don’t own spaces. So what people are doing is hopping around throughout the city to places that weren’t built for those folks.”

Progress is already afoot, Reynolds added. Dani’s Queer Bar is slated to open soon in Back Bay with help from a SPACES grant, a city-funded program to boost businesses downtown after the pandemic. And City Hall will soon choose members of a new Nightlife Initiative for a Thriving Economy (NITE) Committee from 300 applicants.

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Boston also recently a secured a seat on the MBTA board, a promising step forward in improving late-night service.

In the short term, Eugene said, the city should communicate details about venues and events with residents directly.

“There’s a lot of things happening in the city, and you just don’t know,” Eugene said. “We lack a central location just for what’s going on in Boston.”

Idiokitas agreed: “The lady who works every day and has one day off on a Saturday. Where does she look to find out what’s happening?”

What slips away without a bustling late-night scene is people, Osterheldt said. More than 110,000 residents have left Massachusetts since the pandemic began, and the dearth of nightlife is a significant factor for some who leave Boston for busier cities, like Los Angeles or Chicago.

“I know a lot of people personally that have moved away for that exact reason,” Idiokitas said. “There’s nothing to do. They want to be outside. They want to be able to walk into a space and not pay a $50 cover. They want to be able to be themselves, and I feel like the city hasn’t reached that point yet.”

And what cannot be forgotten, Reynolds added, is that nightlife is not only for college students or the early-morning partiers. In a thriving city, nightlife also means creating opportunities for people who work later shifts, including firefighters and hospital staff.

“These are economic drivers,” she said. “Because they’re in the evening time, they don’t necessarily get the attention that they should be getting the resources [or] the constituent services that they should be getting.”

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If we fail to make progress, the panelists said, Boston loses out — physically, culturally, and financially.

“When we’re outside, we want to spend money,” Idiokitas said. “We want to fellowship we want to be together. That’s part of the reason why it’s opening up and becoming more accessible.”

Osterheldt added, “And that’s part of the reason we need to be a nightlife city.”


Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her @ditikohli_.