A number of people have asked Somerville Patch, offline, if BYO is allowed in Somerville.
It's easy to understand their curiosity. According to a Travel + Leisure article published in March, BYO restaurants are on the rise throughout the country. For those not familier, BYO restaurants—BYO stands for "bring your own"—allow patrons to bring their own bottles of wine or beer to drink with their meal.
In fact, one of the best BYO restaurants in America, according to Travel + Leisure, is Cafe Rossetti's, less than 10 miles away in Winthrop.
BYO restaurants can be found in some of the hippest neighborhoods throughout the country. Travel + Leisure lists Bonsoirée, a modern French spot at the edge of Chicago's Logan Square that has a Michelin star, along with Kaz An Nou, in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights, serving French-Caribbean food, and Five Islands Lobster, on Sheepscot Bay in Maine (not so hip, perhaps, but cool for other reasons), which is a picturesque New England fish shack.
Somerville: a dining destination with limited liquor licenses
Meanwhile, Somerville is actively seeking ways, as Mayor Joseph Curtatone said in his inaugural address this week, to enhance the city's "growing reputation as a dining and entertainment destination."
As part of that effort, the Board of Aldermen in October approved a home rule petition that, if passed through the state legislature, would allow the city to issue more liquor licenses to restaurants. The aldermen feel more licenses are needed to boost the city's burgeoning dining scene.
Restaurants are a $120 million business in Somerville, Michael Meehan, then spokesperson for the city, said at the time. Currently, the state limits the city to 84 liquor licenses and 16 beer and wine licenses. Of those, 10 have been set aside for new restaurants in Assembly Square. This state-imposed cap means new and expanding restaurants have to scramble for a liquor license when one becomes available, which isn't often. Some restauranteurs get "the short end of the stick," Meehan explained.
Status of home rule petition
At the moment, the home rule petition is working its way through the state legislature. State Sen. Patricia Jehlen and state Rep. Denise Provost filed the bill on Dec. 15, according to Provost's office. On Dec. 19 it was referred to the committee on consumer protection and professional licensure, and there will be a hearing on the measure sometime before March 21, Provost's office explained.
The bill has unanimous support from Somerville's Beacon Hill delegation.
BYO not officially allowed in Somerville
It's in this context—of a city, filled with a hip and creative population, actively trying to promote a growing dining scene—that people have asked, to paraphrase, "Hey, what's the deal with BYO in Somerville?" The underlying sentiment seems to be that Somerville, with its art studios, diverse population and laid-back vibe, is a BYO kind of place.
Well, the deal is BYO is not allowed by the city of Somerville.
While Massachusetts state law prohibits BYO at establishments that have liquor licenses, it doesn't prohibit the practice at restaurants that don't have licenses.
However, each city and town makes its own rules on the matter, and according to the rules and regulations of Somerville's licensing commission, "Patrons are not permitted to bring alcoholic beverages on the premises [of a restaurant] for their own consumption."
Which doesn't mean BYO never happens in Somerville. Gobyo.com, a website dedicated to the matter, lists 13 BYO restaurants in Somerville. It lists 83 in downtown Boston, where the practice is also prohibited. Perhaps this is because Bostonians have experience sneaking around blue laws and their kin.
What do you think?
Thoughts? Would Somerville benefit from encouraging a BYO culture, or is it something the city can do without? Let us know.