Last Monday was the second part of the Building A Better Commonwealth Forum. The forum was created to start a conversation about ways to make Boston a cooler and more appealing place where people will want to live, work and have fun. The panel that we attended was the Dining/Nightlife/Entertainment/Recreational Activities and featured six very qualified panelists for the topic at hand. There was Sarah McKenna, VP of Fan Services and Entertainment for the Red Sox, Steve DiFilippo, Owner of Davio’s (Park Square), Jason Santos, Hell’s Kitchen Runner-Up and Chef/Owner of Blue Inc. (just opened on the Greenway), Michael Klein, Group and Corporate Sales Manager of Boston Ski and Sports Club, Lisa Johnson, owner of Modern Pilates, and Sal Boscarino, co-founder of 6one7 productions (District and Stoddard’s). The goal of this panel was to be able to talk openly and honestly about what people want to change in the city and also to promote growth of things that are working in the city.
Hayley Kaufman, the moderator of the discussion and lifestyle editor of the Boston Globe, began by asking Sarah McKenna to address the differences between Boston and the other two cities that she worked in (Portland, OR and San Diego, CA) with their respective baseball organizations. Sarah said that what was nice about San Diego and Portland was that even if the baseball game went into extra innings there were a lot of places available to get a bite to eat afterwards. She said that this is one of the things that Boston is seriously lacking, as well as sufficient transportation. Sarah used the Yankees game, that started at 8 pm because it was on ESPN and went into extra innings, as an example to show how the T’s early closing time negatively affects peoples’ ability to have a good time. People who took the T in from places outside the city had to leave the game early in order to have a way home. They had to announce in the stadium “the last train leaves in 10 minutes,” “the last train leaves in 5 minutes” etc. Her point was that it’s a real bummer to have to leave a Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Fenway Park when it’s gone into extra innings because the T is your only mode of transportation home.
When the discussion turned to nightlife and Hayley asked Sal Boscarino what he thought about Mayor Menino saying that he thinks we need more nightlife in Boston, Sal said that he was very surprised. Mayor Menino has never been known to support the notion of having more clubs and nightlife in Boston so everyone was taken aback when he said this in the opening remarks of the Mass Appeal event. Sal said that the nightlife community (business owners, promoters, etc.) needed to collaborate to come up with new venues and places for people to go. Sal also said that he thinks there could be more investment in House of Blues type places. These kinds of places would cater to an 18+ crowd and would also draw in more music festival type events like SXSW, in which Boston is seriously lacking. Sal emphasized that there need to be more places for college kids to go so that we can show them a good time so they’ll want to stay after they graduate. It was mentioned by the panel that the culture of nightlife has changed in Boston over the past ten years. The club/bar scene has migrated from the Lansdowne area to the Theater District and there are a lot more restaurants. Steve DiFillipo weighed in to say that restaurant groups like the Lyons Group have opened up a ton of restaurants in the past few years, which is great, but it’s changed the culture of Boston’s nightlife. This is also a testament to the fact that it is easier to open a restaurant in Boston than a club or bar.
Another issue that everyone seemed to be in agreement with was that the liquor licensing process needs to change in Boston. It costs $200,000 for a liquor license in Boston. This doesn’t include expenses for real estate, construction, etc. This is one of the primary reasons that it’s so hard to open clubs and bars in the city. DiFillipo, who also opened a Davio’s in Atlanta, stated that it doesn’t cost anything to get a liquor license in Atlanta; it’s just a 60-day process. Jason Santos, owner of Blue Inc., said that it took him a month to build his restaurant on the Greenway but it took four months to open it because of “all the crap” he had to go through at City Hall.
It’s clear that change needs to take place. DiFillipo said that he things that restaurant and bar owners in Boston only care about their specific neighborhood and not the city as a whole. He said he thinks that the mayor has done a great job with the neighborhoods and making them nice but not with bringing them together. Our own Executive Director, Lumina Gershfield, stood up and asked the panel that if someone organized a meeting time for a panel of local business owners as well as people at City Hall to address some of the biggest issues facing the nightlife/entertainment sector if they would attend and get involved. All of them agreed.
People seem to really understand that these types of establishments are important to have in a city to make it a fun place where people want to stay. Since we can’t do anything about our weather we need to appeal to people in other ways, this includes making it easier for these places to open. Boston is a very conservative city and some of the people here don’t like change but the reality is that we are going to keep losing young talented people who come to school here to other cities that have more to offer than few nightlife options and a subway that stops at 12:30 am.
Written by Alex Corrado
Photos by Jay Calderin