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Panel offers ways to keep city hopping later at night

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh delivered his 2016 State of the City address at Symphony Hall in Boston. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Boston could create a more vibrant late-night scene by letting restaurants stay open later, cutting the red tape for liquor licenses, and allowing live performances well into the evening.

Those recommendations emerged Wednesday from the Late Night Task Force, a panel convened by Mayor Martin J. Walsh to help bolster after-hours activities in the city.

“We have an opportunity to create the kind of night life that visitors expect in a world-class city,” Walsh said in a statement.

The mayor revived the years-long discussion over extending the hours of local bars and restaurants when he created the task force some 20 months ago. He charged it with examining what was feasible for business districts and neighborhoods desiring later closing times.


The task force considered where people were flocking for late-night food and drinks, and it focused on city hubs thick with restaurants, bars, and patrons, said Rory Cuddyer, a city aide who helped lead the task force.

“We really thought this was an opportunity for us to signal that late night does not have to mean just rowdy college kids hanging out,’’ he said. “We can work with existing establishments that would like to serve beer a little bit later.”

The task force made seven recommendations, including extending liquor license hours downtown. The panel also suggested allowing restaurants citywide that now have a license requiring they close at 10 or 11 p.m. to stay open until midnight if they desire, and selected pilot areas — including downtown, the Seaport, the Financial District, and near TD Garden — to test the extended-hour concept.

The panel also backed longer hours for live patio performances and giving restaurants the choice of serving patrons wine or cocktails without requiring they also purchase food. And it urged eliminating redundant licences and requirements.

Cuddyer said the group sent its recommendations to the mayor and the Inspectional Services Department. The Boston Licensing Board will also review the task force suggestions and hold public hearings before any decision is made on the recommendations, Cuddyer said.


Bob Luz, chief executive officer of the 1,800-member Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said allowing small operators to serve food after 10 or 11 at night and removing unnecessary regulations would attract patrons and boost up-and-coming neighborhoods.

Luz said a vibrant night life is part of the lure of a big city such as Boston and that for too long, restaurants have been losing out on groups of patrons who work odd hours and need a place to sit down and dine late night. Most establishments have no desire to stay open past 2 a.m., he said, but they want to stay open later than 10 p.m.

“There is a much larger appetite to be able to stay open later than . . . allowed today,’’ said Luz, who said 40 percent of his organization’s members are in Greater Boston. “There is a big appetite for, say, [people who] want to sit on a patio in Boston . . . have a glass of wine without having to order food.”

Roger Berkowitz, president and chief executive officer of Legal Sea Foods, said the task force recommendations would not affect the Legal franchise: Legal Crossing, for instance, is open until 2 in the morning, with last call at 1:45, he said.

Still, he said he found the recommendations reasonable. But he would make changes. He said food should always be available for people dining outside. While he agreed with streamlining regulations, he said the city should tread carefully about extending hours at certain establishments.


“People applying for that should have a proven track record with the normal hours of operations,’’ he said. “I think you are asking for problems if [restaurants] do not have the appropriate experience. . . . It safeguards the public.”

Around downtown, some patrons were warming up to the idea of later hours.

“With all the stuff that is happening downtown, it will be great to have late-night options that are not just fast food,’’ said Amanda McCarthy, a 28-year-old Jamaica Plain resident.

Gael Motz, a 60-year-old Medford resident who works as a travel agent in Boston, also said later hours seem worthwhile.

“Midnight seems appropriate,’’ she said. “I used to live in Anchorage, and the bars and restaurants opened until 4. That was the life.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.