A rather simple solution that focuses on partnerships with nearby dining spots
When bars were quietly moved from Phase 3 to Phase 4 of the reopening of the Massachusetts economy in June, it wasn’t really known what that might mean for drinking spots in the state. It soon became evident, however, that this could be really, really bad for watering holes with no kitchens. Instead of possibly opening early this summer, it now looked like they might not be able to open until 2021, based on the assumption that Phase 4 relies on the discovery of a therapeutic and/or vaccine for the coronavirus.
At the time of the switch, taprooms, beer gardens, music clubs, and dance clubs were already facing a similar problem—that is, if they had no kitchens to prepare food—as they had been in Phase 4 from the start. All of a sudden, bars without on-site food prep joined a number of other businesses in serious peril.
Some drinking spots apparently attempted to get around things by offering pre-packaged foods like potato chips or pretzels. But an updated list of rules introduced by the Baker administration in early August shut the door on that option, threatening that bars “masquerading” as restaurants would have to close until a therapeutic and/or vaccine was discovered. So that, as they say, is that, right? Well, not exactly …
There now seems to be a workaround that appears to be legal with the state and at least some cities and towns. It’s a rather simple solution, one that focuses on partnerships and collaborations with nearby dining spots.
One of the textbook examples of a bar without a kitchen teaming up with a restaurant is that of the Sligo Pub and Dragon Pizza in the Davis Square section of Somerville. The dive bar and pizzeria are located on the same block of Elm Street on the eastern edge of the square, and the two businesses are fortunate to have a parking lot behind their building, which is where well-spaced picnic tables are set up for customers to sit and enjoy some pizza and beer (or mixed drinks/spirits, which in some ways seem to be more of a fit for an old-school Somerville spot like the Sligo). They even rigged the jukebox to some outdoor speakers, so you’re all set on the music front.
Another food/drink setup is one that should come as no surprise to anyone, as Trillium’s outdoor space in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, after a brief closure to check on the rules, is open again for business, with the Fort Point-based brewing company’s taproom collaborating with food vendors within the adjacent Time Out Market. Because both the taproom and the food hall are tenants of the same property and use the same facilities, this is ultimately a pretty seamless collaboration that both the city and the state reportedly approved of with no major issues.
Another collaboration that hasn’t happened yet but which is in the works is that of the currently-closed Allston music club Great Scott looking to move into the former Pizzeria Regina space in Allston, and joining forces with Rock City Pizza so that—if it happens—patrons would be able to listen to live music, dine on pizza, and presumably drink some adult beverages. Other examples of businesses teaming up in similar fashions can be found throughout the region, though since we are not entirely sure that their setups are permissible, we won’t mention them here, but it is definitely something that is being done more and more.
Currently, a number of other bars, taprooms, and clubs in the Boston area and elsewhere in Massachusetts remained closed. While we hear that some of them may be looking into the types of collaborations that Sligo, Trillium, and Great Scott are doing, others seem to be content (or perhaps resigned) to stay dark until Phase 4 kicks in. It remains to be seen how many of them ultimately stay in business, as there is still no therapeutic or vaccine in sight, but hopefully some people can wait things out or perhaps ultimately do what others are doing and partner with restaurants in order to open their doors sooner rather than later.
The struggle for establishments with no kitchens continues to be a particularly tough one, but at least now there appears to be some hope for drinking spots, which is certainly more than could be said earlier this summer when things looked about as bleak as could possibly be.
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.