Boston City Council approves BYOB
Thirsty diners at KO Pies in South Boston have been denied the authentic Australian experience of washing down a meat pie with a frothy Coopers Original Pale Ale because the 16-seat restaurant cannot afford a beer and wine license.
That may soon change after the City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to end Boston’s ban on BYOB — “bringing your own bottle” of wine or beer to select neighborhood restaurants. The ordinance, which Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he will sign, is aimed at entrepreneurial chefs like Sam Jackson at KO Pies, who frequently packs meat pie to go and directs customers to local liquor stores that stock Australian beer.
“We get people craving a beer with their pie,” Jackson said. “Now, potentially, they will be able to do that at KO, which is great, mate.”
But don’t crack open that Coopers just yet. It may take a year before diners can bring their own beer or wine.
And leave that 1998 bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet at home if you go to L’Espalier in the Back Bay. BYOB will be allowed only at establishments without liquor licenses, which means that 1998 vintage must be bought off the L’Espalier menu for $8,750.
BYOB now goes to the mayoral-controlled Boston Licensing Board, which will craft regulations. The city will launch “a thorough and robust community process” with the goal of implementing BYOB by the end of 2016, according to Walsh’s press secretary, Bonnie McGilpin.
Councilor Michelle Wu spearheaded the push for BYOB, which has flourished in Philadelphia and Chicago.
“The goal in bringing it here to Boston is to spark small neighborhood restaurants by giving entrepreneurs an additional tool to grow their businesses and creating more options for residents,” Wu said.
The council proposed BYOB rules, but the regulatory framework will ultimately be created by the Licensing Board. Wu described a “safe and regulated” BYOB system for restaurants with 30 or fewer seats in outlying neighborhoods, such as Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury, and South Boston.
The council recommended banning BYOB downtown and in the North End, South End, Bay Village, Fenway, Chinatown, Seaport, West End, Beacon Hill, and Back Bay neighborhoods.
Diners should be limited to a bottle of wine or six-pack per couple, Wu said, and restaurants should be able to collect a “corkage fee,” which is a charge for bringing in wine or beer. Wait staff should also undergo training on safely serving alcohol, and restaurants should be required to have liquor liability insurance as part of the measure adopted Wednesday.
“This is not for the pizza place with one person behind the counter and no one supervising diners on the floor,” Wu said. “This is not for locations where the neighborhood is fiercely opposed. There is still going to be a community process for each BYOB applicant.”
Boston is able to embrace BYOB restaurants without approval from the Legislature, a rare quirk in a state where even inconsequential city initiatives need the blessing of Beacon Hill.
Earlier this month at a public hearing on BYOB, there was no angry contingent of restaurant owners worried the initiative would devalue their beer-and-wine licenses, which can cost $50,000 to $75,000. Proponents say it could enliven local business districts by making it easier for budding restaurateurs.
In his home neighborhood of Hyde Park, Councilor Stephen J. Murphy has described a commercial district anchored by seven nail salons, five hair salons, and three storefront churches.
“This in my view is to diversify neighborhood business districts in the outlying sections of the city,” said Murphy, who co-sponsored the measure.
Councilor Ayanna Pressley earlier expressed skepticism, fearing BYOB would create a two-tiered system with most liquor licenses remaining downtown while outlying neighborhoods would be relegated to BYOB. But Wednesday, Pressley voted in favor of the measure after vowing to push for more reforms to the city’s liquor license system.
“BYOB should be an option for aspiring restaurateurs and the residents of Boston,” Pressley said. “But I do not want this to become the only option.”
In Roslindale, chef Christopher Lin recently made the investment in a beer and wine license for his Seven Star Street Bistro, which he described as a Taiwanese Gastro pub. He owns and operates the restaurant with his wife and 80-year-old father, who cooks on weekends.
Seven Star launched four years ago and recently expanded to include a dining room. BYOB would have been a good alternative, Lin said, as the restaurant gained its footing. Now that he has a beer and wine license, Lin said he was not worried BYOB will damage his investment.
“For greater good, it will definitely help small business take away some of the burden,” Lin said. “There are already so many barriers. This might allow for some more creative businesses to come out of the woodwork.”