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NEWS TO US: EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT MASS. LIQUOR LAWS

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(But were too drunk to ask)

Above photo via Flickr user Steve Snodgrass

What does a girl have to do to get a drink around here?

The short answer: a lot.

Massachusetts has always been restrictive regarding alcohol, and recent-ish changes to some of the most onerous rules—like the noon limit on Sunday service in restaurants, or the “you bought a bottle, drank part of it, and have to leave the rest” wine law—haven’t changed the overall tone.

There are still strict rules governing when, where, and how much you can drink. For example:

The Permit Cap:

In the kind of rambling legalese only a legislator could penetrate without a drink, Massachusetts lays out a population-based system for granting (too few) liquor licenses.

Boston can grant up to 692 liquor licenses (in addition to 355 beer and wine-only licenses), but the law specifically states that it can’t grant new licenses until that number gets down below 650, through cancellation or revocation. Which means Boston can’t add to its 675 current licenses until at least 25 licensees decide to burn money.

No one just lets a permit expire; they sell it (something Massachusetts explicitly allows, though in typical bureaucratic fashion [read: the most fucktarded way you can think to do things], only with a license-selling-license).

Alcohol permits in Boston can sell for upwards of $400,000 ($150,000-$200,000 for a permit is pretty standard). And the process isn’t democratic; they’re sold by the current licensee, often to friends or family, basically guaranteeing your best-ever bar idea will def-never happen.

(Un)Happy Hour Regulations:

Ever visited an out-of-town friend, guzzled pre-dinner drinks, and received a bill so low you called over the waitress to make sure she didn’t forget something?

That’s because other states don’t have Happy Hour Regulations.

Massachusetts law specifically prohibits “selling … any drinks [for] less than the price regularly charged … during the same calendar week.”

It also prohibits stores from issuing coupons or advertising discounts, which explains why some still have just-freeze-it bagged margaritas gathering dust on their shelves.

Bars try to make up the difference by offering cheap food during certain hours, but let’s be honest, at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, you’re not looking for a $2 slider, you’re looking for an extra Manhattan (or three).

This doesn’t just screw you, it screws the bars. Happy hours exist specifically to get people in at times they might otherwise choose sobriety, just like coupons exist specifically for stores to unload stuff they can’t sell at full price.

But Happy Hour Regulations don’t stop there …

You Can’t Give It Away:

Because Massachusetts hates fun, not only can’t you discount booze, you can’t give out a freebie, ever.

“Offering or delivering any free drinks to any person or group” is verboten, as is “increasing the volume of alcoholic beverages contained in a drink without increasing proportionately the price … for such drink.” Legally speaking, a double has to cost double, too. Even tastings are locked down; any more than 1/4 oz. servings of cordials are forbidden, and those have to come with food.

Because you know, we’re all planning to get slammered on tasting-cups of limoncello.

There’s also a prohibition against selling “unlimited … drinks during any set period of time for a fixed price,”—i.e., open bars—except at private functions.

Even then, you can’t charge the guests, who have to appear on a written guest list “available for inspection by the licensing authorities.”

So make sure you know exactly who you’re bringing as a plus one to your friend’s wedding.

Space Closed:

Photo via JamesAlan1986 at en.wikipedia

Some bars manage to get permits that allow them to keep serving until 2 a.m., but more close at 1, because 2 a.m. permits are (unsurprisingly) hard to come by.

And don’t think that means you can just take the party back home with you. Liquor store hours are also regulated. Strictly.

In case you think all these rules are really guidelines, look to the case of Prospect Liquors in Cambridge, which closed abruptly a few months ago with a “cigarettes and soda only” sign hinting that something had gone awry with its permit.

According to a local distributor in the know, Prospect Liquors’ offense was opening at 11:45 a.m.—15 minutes before the legal opening time—on a series of Sundays.

Of course those rules are just the beginning; there’s a law that says you can’t sell more than two drinks to one person (so much for buying a round); there’s a law limiting retailers to three licenses statewide (which is why wine-selling Whole Foods are hipster unicorns); there’s even a law that says you can get your license revoked if anyone “expose(s) to public view any portion of the pubic area, anus, vulva or genitals, or any simulation thereof, or shall suffer or permit any female to … expose to view any portion of the breast below the top of the areola, or any simulation thereof.”

That’s right, the state won’t just protect us from ourselves, it will protect us from pictures of boobs in a bar.

All of which, of course, leaves me desperately needing a drink.


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