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Task Force Offers Plan To Extend Boston’s Nightlife Scene

Boston’s nightlife may get a little more vibrant -- or at least stay open a little bit longer.

A task force appointed by Mayor Marty Walsh is recommending the city boost its nightlife scene by allowing restaurants to stay open later, extending live music hours and streamlining the liquor license process.

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

Walsh created the late-night task force in 2014 to look at ways to improve the city’s nightlife. The group, which concluded its work last year, examined the feasibility of late-night hours as well as licensing restrictions. In its recommendations, released Wednesday, the task force focuses on keeping the city’s establishments open later.

The panel calls for extending the hours that downtown establishments can serve alcohol, as well as a pilot program in some areas — including Faneuil Hall, near TD Garden, Boylston Street in the Back Bay and the Financial District -- to test extended liquor license hours. Currently, liquor can't be served past 2 a.m. — and changing that would require legislative action. A proposed time for when the liquor licenses would be extended to has not been determined, according to the city's startup manager Rory Cuddyer, who co-chaired the task force.

"Those are details that we would have to circle back and make the decision on when we have the ability to do so," Cuddyer said in a phone interview. "Currently, the mayor has a bill at the state for the Legislature to take action to give Boston authority to extend liquor license hours. "

Cuddyer said the other recommendations could be implemented by the city now. Some measures would require hearings and public input.

The task force also recommended that restaurants that currently have a 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. license be allowed to extend their hours until midnight.

The panel also called for eliminating redundant licenses and requirements in an effort to streamline the licensing process for restaurants. Additionally, the panel said establishments should be allowed to serve drinks outside on a patio or deck without being required to also serve food. Establishments should also be able to have live entertainment and music later into the evening, the panel recommended.

"We’re hoping that these are the first of many reforms to come," Cuddyer said.

Bob Luz, the president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, applauded the panel’s recommendations.

"Common sense approaches, such as allowing small operators to serve food after 10 p.m. and removing unnecessary regulations on downtown operators will continue to make Boston flourish,” Luz said in a statement. “All neighborhoods of Boston benefit from increased restaurant vibrancy and occupancy.”

But ironically, the late-night task force recommendations come as the MBTA appears poised to cut late-night T service. The issue was the subject of public meetings last week, as the T looks for ways to close a projected $242 million deficit next fiscal year. Transit officials say late-night service has low ridership and high per-rider costs.

Proponents of late-night service say it’s important, in part, for the city’s young population, a core part of Boston’s nightlife scene.

Part of Walsh's late-night task force’s work included examining late-night transportation access. The panel’s recommendations made no mention of late-night T service.

"Unfortunately the city doesn't have a say in whether late-night T service continues," Cuddyer said.

The possible end of late-night T service is something the city would have to consider as it looks to extend hours at Boston establishments, Cuddyer said. The panel's potential pilot areas for extended liquor hours are also areas frequented by late-night MBTA service, he said.

The task force recommendations are currently being reviewed by the mayor. Cuddyer said the recommendations will also be reviewed by the Boston Licensing Board and the Inspectional Services Department before any decisions are made.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Digital Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a digital reporter at WBUR, covering all things relevant to people in Greater Boston.

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