The Cisco Brewers beer garden in the Seaport District — which has been thriving on a loophole in state liquor laws — is going legit with the purchase of a $450,000 full license to serve alcoholic beverages.
“The one-day licenses were kind of an experiment for us,” acknowledged Dennis Quilty, the lawyer who represents Cisco Beer Garden LLC. “For a lot of reasons, economic and political, et cetera, it made sense to go out and buy one so we’re the same as everybody else.”
Last month, I made a big stink about how beer gardens like Cisco’s were making a mockery of the law by operating with a series of one-day licenses — months at a time — to sidestep the expense and regulation of a permanent license.
As much as I love beer gardens, the Cisco location in particular irked me because its one license allowed for 670 patrons, making it one of the biggest bars in the region.
Beer gardens have become a new rite of summer in Boston, popping up in May and gone by October.
But some restaurants have soured on these outdoor drinking spots, saying they’re unfair to brick-and-mortar establishments that have shelled out big bucks for year-round liquor licenses.
Those who run the beer gardens haven’t been happy with the process, either, which they say is a hassle and comes with the uncertainty of a temporary license.
Beacon Hill is attempting to address the loophole of one-day licenses, which typically are used by nonprofits and other institutions for special events such as a gala fund-raiser or a wedding. One potential fix: The creation of a new seasonal category of licenses for beer gardens.
The Cisco beer garden is now pursuing a full liquor license because its landlord WS Development wants to keep it open into the winter. Think warming tent with hot toddies, hot chocolate, and mulled cider next to ice skating and curling rinks, and a holiday market selling Christmas trees and wreaths.
“We observed that the summer was so popular we decided to create a winter destination,” said Yanni Tsipis, a senior vice president at WS Development.
No kidding. It was not uncommon to see lines forming around the block, as if there was no place else to grab a pint in the Seaport.
Like other beer gardens, Cisco has a laid-back appeal: beer in plastic cups, tacos and pizza from outdoor stalls, and a welcome mat out for dogs. And oh, the porta potties.
In discussing a winter plan, WS and Cisco agreed to a three-year lease and decided that it would be best if the beer garden obtained a year-round liquor license. It sits on an undeveloped parcel along Seaport Boulevard owned by WS, which aims to have Cisco re-open in early December and operating until February.
Quilty, Cisco’s attorney, said the company has agreed to buy a liquor license from the shuttered Globe Bar & Café (no relation to The Boston Globe).
Cisco beer garden will need both city and state approval for the transfer, and the first hearing before the city of Boston licensing board is scheduled for Wednesday.
Senator Nick Collins, the South Boston Democrat, called Cisco’s pursuit of a full license “progress,” but he would still prefer to establish a seasonal licensing process for beer gardens.
Lee Cooper, owner of Hopsters Brewing Co., which is about a block away from the Cisco location, still contends the beer garden is flouting the law. Hopsters filed a complaint in September with the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, and Cooper urges the state agency to “hurry up and do their investigation.”
Dan Kenary, cofounder of Harpoon Brewery, which has been making beer on the South Boston Waterfront since 1987, told me that Cisco beer garden is doing the right thing by getting a real license.
He said the original day-by-day set-up didn’t “pass my smell test as being fair.”
“You shouldn’t have government picking winners and losers,” added Kenary, who opened a beer hall on site of the Harpoon brewery in 2013. Harpoon holds a pouring license, which allow breweries to serve beer on the premises.
With the potential for Cisco to go practically year-round, the Seaport is becoming a hot spot for craft beer makers.
Trillium Brewing Co. has set up shop in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood, and Lord Hobo Brewing Co. will open a location next year at Two DryDock, a development in the marine industrial park.