Restoration Hardware fiasco hints at a broader need

The grand-opening party at the new Restoration Hardware location in the Back Bay Wednesday had a few big things going for it. It was the handiwork of events-planning superstar Bryan Rafanelli, who handled Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, and the guest list abounded with local notables. Then again, it was an event for a home-furnishings chain store, and it took place on a miserable March night. So it was still remarkable that the event was so well-attended that invitees and servers had trouble moving around inside — and local fire officials felt compelled to shut it down.

Perhaps fittingly, the fiasco occurred just as The Onion had prompted a moment of good-natured soul-searching among local nightlife advocates. That same day, a satirical article in the gag newspaper poked fun at Boston’s “cute” efforts to act like a big city, and the crackdown at the Restoration Hardware party fit all too easily into Boston’s image as a place where fun gains little purchase. That’s not really fair: Keeping buildings from exceeding their fire capacity is entirely reasonable in a city long scarred by the Cocoanut Grove fire.

Still, the crowding at the Restoration Hardware event illustrated something important about today’s Boston: On any given night, there are thousands of people in Boston looking for something beyond the usual to do.


The public discussion of nightlife in Boston often presumes, wrongly, that college students are its primary beneficiaries. Especially as the heart of the city fills up with new housing, gainfully employed adults’ quest for novelty and variety is bound to intensify. A few years back, the hottest ticket in town was “Sleep No More,” which put a working bar in the middle of an avant-garde take on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Here and there, a few brave souls work through the thicket of alcohol regulations in Boston to stage pop-up wine events.

A glitzy, big-budget party at an upscale furniture store is nowhere as subversive. But the episode still made it clear that even on a Wednesday night, in the wind and freezing rain, there’s an exuberance in Boston that’s just waiting to be channeled.