Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Whereby my fascination with Mass.gov gets topical
After the dustup between the Mountainview "Restaurant" and the town of Clarksburg started getting ridiculous, I have been trying to figure out Massachusetts's liquor laws for myself. Mass.gov makes the laws easy to find, but they are not terribly easy to interpret.
I've been in the hospitality industry for 24 years. I've been licensed in three states to serve and sell alcoholic beverages. I am TIPS certified and well trained in the field alcohol service management. My experience includes managing food and beverage at an NBA Arena, the World Trade Center-Seattle and at various restaurants, clubs and banquet halls.
For what it is worth, the law in Massachusetts is befuddling compared to those in the other states I've dealt with. Here is the definition of a "Club" for alcohol purposes:
"Club'', a corporation chartered for any purpose described in section two of chapter one hundred and eighty, whether under federal or state law, including any body or association lawfully operating under a charter granted by a parent body so chartered, and including also any organization or unit mentioned in clause twelfth of section five of chapter forty, owning, hiring, or leasing a building, or space in a building, of such extent and character as may be suitable and adequate for the reasonable and comfortable use and accommodation of its members; provided, that its affairs and management are conducted by a board of directors, executive committee, or similar body chosen by the members at its annual meeting, and that no member or any officer, agent or employee of the club is paid, or directly or indirectly receives in the form of salary or other compensation, any profits from the disposition or sale of alcoholic beverages beyond the amount of such salary as may be fixed and voted annually within two months after January first in each year by the members or by its directors or other governing body and as shall in the judgment of the local licensing authorities and the commission be reasonable and proper compensation for the services of such member, officer, agent or employee. Such club shall file with the local licensing authorities and the commission annually within three months after January first in each year a list of the names and residences of its officers, together with the amount of salary or compensation received by each employee engaged in the handling or selling of alcoholic beverages.
Did you catch that? The law is pretty tight about what constitutes a club. It even regulates when and how bonuses based on liquor sales can be paid to employees.
So here is the legal definition of a restaurant for liquor licensing purposes:
"Restaurant'', space, in a suitable building, leased or rented or owned by a person holding a duly issued and valid license as a common victualler under the provisions of said chapter one hundred and forty, and provided with adequate and sanitary kitchen and dining room equipment and capacity for preparing, cooking and serving suitable food for strangers, travelers and other patrons and customers, and in addition meeting and complying with all the requirements imposed upon common victuallers under said chapter one hundred and forty. No advertising matter, screen, curtain or other obstruction which, in the opinion of the licensing authorities, prevents a clear view of the interior of a restaurant shall be maintained in or on any window or door thereof after the said authorities have ordered the removal of such obstruction and have afforded the licensee thereof a reasonable opportunity to remove the same.
And here is a Tavern:
''Tavern'', an establishment where alcoholic beverages may be sold, as authorized by this chapter, with or without food, to be served to and drunk by patrons in plain view of other patrons, all entrances to which shall open directly from a public way. The business conducted therein shall be open to public view from the sidewalk level and the establishment shall be properly lighted. No window facing a public way shall be obstructed by any screen or other object extending more than five feet above the level of the sidewalk on which the establishment abuts, but in no event shall any screen or obstruction prevent a clear view of the interior of said tavern.
Those are pretty damn loose. But did you notice the clause in the restaurant section about
"... preparing, cooking and serving suitable food for strangers, travelers and other patrons and customers,..."?
It seems very clear that a "restaurant" must be open to the general public. In Mountainview's case, their succesful argument to the AABC was that the food stored in their kitchen was for banquets, which are generally *not* open to the general public, but rather a select group of invited guests. I am puzzled how the Clarksburg Board and AABC never seemed to mention or even notice this fact. Add to this the fact that Mountainview restricted entry to those 'of age' during most hours of open operation and their clientele becomes an even narrower group. Oh , and don't forget that they did not serve prepared food during these open hours which means that they were not exercising their "common victualler" license during these hours. (Ya' gotta love the colonial language!)
What it boils down to is that a restaurant could also fit the definition of a tavern and, in some cases, a tavern could also hold a "common victualler" license and thereby meet the definition of restaurant. In culinary terms, we call this type of confusion a "clusterf**k".
So, let me go back to something I suggested in Andy's comments several months ago. There should be a simple test for taxation and licensing purposes that legally differentiates between a "tavern" and a "restaurant". (You can keep all the jargon about windows and doors if you like.)If a food and beverage operation receives equal to, or greater than, 50% of its revenue from food sales, it is a "restaurant". If it sells more booze than food, then it is a "tavern".
Wasn't that easy?
Are you listening Beacon Hill?
UPDATE: I have it from a very good source that Mountainview did, indeed, run a small fried food menu available during bar hours. With this knowledge, it appears that they are square under our Commonwealth's goofy liquor laws. And, supposedly they are opening Friday night with a small, but full service menu.
Also, an insurance professional has assured me that the ratio of booze to food is how the insurance industry in Massachusetts determines rates. They know the difference between a bar and a restaurant.
It sure would be nice if the media reporting on politics, both local and national, could come back through the looking glass. I do not understand why this idea
is not the automatic default of all supposedly objective journalists. But as anybody who reads papers and watches the new channels knows, it obviously is not.
If I were king, there would be 100 percent disclosure and no story, no column, no “exclusive” would ever be permitted without total and immediate disclosure that the source was paid by a partisan, for dishing partisanship to media.
Imagine a story or column that read like this: “New questions were raised by the opposition research staff of Candidate A about Candidate B.” Or: “In an oppo research handout from the Republican National Committee, it was proven that Senator X made contradictory statements. Contacted by this paper, the talking-points writer for the Democratic Committee replied …”
It will be fascinating to watch the local elections this year for all the dirt provided by one side or the other. And if any reporters get something from me, or this site, feel free to credit me. My positions are not secret. I only ask that you treat all your sources the same way.
UPDATE: A friend points out that Jen Huberdeau's blog is called "Through the Looking Glass."
My literary reference to Lewis Carroll's book in this post was purely coincidental and not intended as a jab at Jen.
Sad Day on Spring Street
Early this morning The Purple Pub, Subway and A Perfect Blend were burned out of their buildings. The fire reportedly started under the floor of A Perfect Blend and spread from there.
Firefighters are still on the scene performing safety and clean up duty as I write this.
Speculation has it that the building containing Subway and Perfect Blend is a total loss, while the owner of the Purple Pub, Mary, told me that the bar area of her business is in decent shape and sits on a separate
foundation from the other two restaurants. But there are structural issues related to the wall shared by the businesses and nobody has made any proclamations about the future as of now.
The buildings are owned by David Paresky
who has been in the news lately because his large donation to Williams College to build a new student center in his name. (He also is a benefactor of the local Temple where his parents' names are prominently etched.) In a tragic coincidence, approximately a decade ago, another one of Paresky's
buildings burned on Spring Street when a blaze broke out in the long-gone Cobble Cafe. A new building housing the Sushi Thai Garden and Spice Root now occupies the spot.
(Full disclosure: David Paresky
is the landlord of my employer.)
I spoke with all the business owners this morning and made coffee for the fire department. A Perfect Blend has only been open since last fall. The owner, Ron, had sunk thousands of hours of his own time and even more of his money into the space trying to create a nice place for students to hang out, drink coffee and get a bite to eat. Recently he began serving breakfast and appeared to have cornered that market on the street. He posted a sign on his door last week when Williams went on Spring Break saying he would be closed for renovations. He had not reopened as of the fire.
The extraordinarily hard working couple who owns Subway only discovered the results of the fire when they showed up for work this morning. The fire department called the landlord's office, but nobody called the business owners. The couple (whose names escapes me. Jay(?) and ???) stood outside waiting for their employees to show up and collect paychecks.
Jay gave me the quote of the day: "At least now I'll get a day off."
The Pub's crew was trying to make the best of it. Mary, Liz and Jason were wandering the street chatting and looking a little shell shocked. Channel 11 showed up and interviewed Mary.
I am sure that I represent all in the community in wishing the people involved a speedy recovery economically and emotionally. Which brings me to the only bright note of the whole mess - at least nobody was injured.
This Old House episode 744
Did you know that leaving a fully charge cordless drill battery in the charger while the cradle is unplugged will completely discharge the battery?
I do... as of a few minutes ago.
So much for tonight's project. There will still be a hole in my kitchen ceiling in morning. Oh well.
Extended Day Hits the NY Times
The NY Times has a short piece
on the efforts of other communities, including some in Massachusetts, experimenting with an extended school day. This is the same program that caused so much grief here in North Adams last year.
Anybody who actually followed my commentary on the subject knows that I supported the concept (and still do) and was quoted saying so in the Hill Country Observer
during the spring of 2006. In that same article the Chair of the School Committee (a.k.a. Mayor Barrett) was quoted as saying that he was unsure of the program and was reserving judgement. Funny that.
Just a few months later, all hell broke loose when the North Adams Teacher's Association flatly rejected the notion of opening supplemental negotiations to extend their day by a vote of 96 - 5.
Remember those numbers every time someone tries to convince you that the teachers were meaningfully included in the planning of North Adams' proposal. The colossal failure of the proposal was that it was driven from the top and the finished product, while extraordinarily well written, had little to do with the supposed year long meetings on the subject. It was a document based on wishful thinking rather than collaboration.
96 - 5.
The mayor, school committee, city councilors, editorial pages, etc... all excoriated the teachers, in particular the NATA Executive Board, for betraying the children of North Adams by refusing to consider that particular version of the extended day scheme. These attacks were unfair and misleading since the teachers had been trying for months to get the district to scale back the proposal to some sort of pilot program. Time and time again, in my conversations with various teachers from around the district, I heard that teachers were being told that the plan was "all or nothing" by Superintendent Montepare.
96 - 5.
Strangely, as soon as the deadlines for the grant had past and the bare-knuckles-hardball-political scapegoating of the teachers had begun, the powers that be claimed that "everything was on the table" and that pilot programs were being considered.
Given the weight of the evidence, those claims sound like hogwash.
The best evidence of this is a memo sent out by Supt. Montepare which bluntly states that teachers might be laid off if the extended day proposal was not approved. Considering that the funding for extended day was supposed to be above and beyond the existing budget, that led the teachers to two conclusions:
- 1) The district was more interested in the 7-figure grant that would accompany a district-wide extended day program than in the actual program itself.
- 2) The district was overtly threatening them if they did not play ball.
96 - 5
Pay was another major sticking point. Mass 2020's guidelines suggested a hefty pay raise in the neighborhood of 30% for teachers. The North Adams district was offering what they claimed was 14%. (A figure that many teachers who did the math say is inflated.)
Several people went on the record calling the teachers greedy and accusing them of misrepresenting the Mass 2020 pay figures. There were officials involved in the planning claiming that the teachers were completely making-up the 30% figure. So I was a little surprised to find this nugget
in the NY Time piece.
In Massachusetts, schools in that state’s pilot program, teachers have received a 30 percent raise for their extra work.
So to all of those in positions of influence who publicly called the various teachers "liars", "criminal", "retard", etc.... you might want to try a more subtle approach when you bring the subject up next time.
96 - 5.
There is still a lot of acrimony in the air about the way that this was handled. While the bully pulpit is an effective place to take on entities such as Time Warner Cable, developers and slumlords, it tends to leave a sour taste in the mouth when the same tactics are used on a group of people who are generally respected members of the community - teachers.
I hope that all involved learned something from this episode.
New York State Museum
We had a great day today. For the first time in many many moons, our family actually got to spend an entire Saturday together. No work. No family business. Just a day out.
This morning we headed over the hills to the New York State Museum
located in the Empire State Plaza. It is a great museum for families, with all sorts of collections. The rock geeks among us really enjoyed the exhibit on the geology
of the area and there were a few interesting displays of wildlife
, such as moose and beavers
Of special interest was the Fire Engine collection
. My father-in-law is a retired firefighter and has made the lore of the profession a major part of my wife's and child's life. Seeing a truly fine and representative collection is a real treat.
But right next to this display of antique fire engines was the one that I spent the most time pondering (and explaining to a 7 year-old). It was the Engine 6 Pumper that was destroyed in the attack on, and collapse of, the World Trade Center. The WTC display
is heart wrenching even in its very limited scope. There is twisted and maimed structural steel from the buildings themselves and perhaps the most eerie artifact is a piece of the landing gear complete with remnants of a shredded tire from American Airlines Flight 11.
It is difficult to view such things for those of us who remember 9/11. But it was clear that most of the kids under the age of 9 or 10 were seeing the exhibit as a previous generation's history rather than a ever-present reminder. As time goes on and the ranks of those who did not watch the events on that day become more numerous, displays such as this will become poignant references to a past era. And, I guess, that is what museums are all about.
The local scene
While in Chicago, I still surfed the local sites and kept abreast of some interesting developments on the local blog scene:
My favorite new blog is the CleanerPlateClub
. Ali is a friend of a friend who is trying to figure out how to feed her family healthy meals in the evermore complex web of food-that-is-not what-you-think-it-is. Sometimes it reads like a standard Mommyblog, but as often as not, she hits on a subject that has far deeper roots than your typical recipe.The Transcript
has decided to jump into the blog fray by putting a comment section on each of their online articles. If the comments
following this editorial
are any indication, it seems that the option to be anonymous will be too tempting for the cowardly masses. Might I suggest required registration to post? Kudos to Mr. Drohan for this upgrade.
Tom Bernard has one of the best posts
I've read on the state of the city. I suspect that the usual suspects will eventually turn up to tell a guy who grew up here, moved to Boston after graduating from Williams and still came back, why he does not know what he is talking about.
Ross hates his plumbing
. I am right there with you
, bro.Andy seems
to have discovered that compared to school, real work in the service sector can leave little time to blog. (Again, I am right there with you
Wes continues to stalk the He Man Woman Hater's Club
. Somebody should serialize all those letters for a book.
(aka the Funniest Man in North Adams) lack of posting makes him appear to be very busy himself. (Thanks for clearing the driveway while I was gone!) Hopefully regular commentary will resume when his schedule calms down.
And of course there are many other whom I have neglected to mention, if for no other reason than it is time to put my kid to bed. Later.......
Mourning with Joy
Thank you to all who offered condolences, both public and private. The outpouring of sympathy was greatly appreciated by our family.
Mom's memorial service was very comforting, emotional and just a little irreverent, which I am sure would have made her smile. The reception had about 80 people filling my parent's house. It turned into a suburban Chicago version of an Irish Wake, with lots of food, laughter, stories and, of course, beer.
There were young kids running around and old friends who travelled hundreds of miles just to reminisce. We could not have asked for a more fitting tribute. Thank you.