While New Yorkers and Chicagoans can enjoy their cities’ nightlife well into the early morning, bar-goers in Boston must head home at 2 a.m., a closing time typically earlier than other major cities.
Standard liquor license holders must close at 2 a.m. in Chicago, although they can apply for an extended opening of 4 a.m., according to the City of Chicago website. In New York, many bars have their last call at 4 a.m.
But Massachusetts law places greater restrictions on bars.
Jon Sweeney, general manager of Lucky’s Lounge in South Boston, said the bar is only open until 2 a.m. because of licensing legalities.
“We have to [close at this time] – the city says when we can stay open,” he said.
Massachusetts law states that licensed restaurants are entitled to serve alcohol between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., although local authorities can choose whether to extend that time to 2 a.m., according to the Alcoholic Beverages Commission.
But selling alcohol between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. is forbidden.
“We have a 1 a.m. license that’s issued to us by the city,” said Barry Macdonald, owner of Churchill’s Lounge near Faneuil Hall. “We can’t serve anyone after 1 a.m.”
Cambridge has similar laws to follow.
“Legally our license goes until 1 a.m.,” said Jennifer Gochis, general manager of West Side Lounge in Cambridge. “Cambridge either gives one or two o’clock licenses.”
The bar scene in Boston has always been this way, said Sean Glynn, a bartender at An Tain in downtown Boston.
“That’s just the way it is,” Glynn said. “We’ve never had it any other way. People are just used to it. You’d gain more trouble staying open later. I think two is a good time.”
Owners said a later closing time would bring in a different, more rambunctious crowd.
David Paratore, owner of Vintage Lounge in the financial district, said if they stayed open until 4 a.m., it would increase their revenue and the type of people they serve.
“There are people who come in at 10 [p.m.] and people who come in at 12,” Paratore said. “I’m sure there would be another sect of individuals.”
But bar owners said they do not lose business by closing at an earlier time because everyone follows the same rules.
“Since nobody can be open past that time there’s no business to lose,” Paratore said. “We choose to stay open until 2 a.m. seven days a week.”
Vintage Lounge has business right up until 2 a.m. and serves food and cocktails until they have to stop, he said.
Lucky’s Lounge experiences the same thing.
“We don’t lose business because everyone in the city is on the same level,” Sweeney said.
The only bars that run the risk of losing business are those that close at 1 a.m. instead of 2 a.m., he said.
“We close an hour earlier than other bars, so maybe on that extra hour [we lose business],” Macdonald said. “However, our crowd is really an after-dinner crowd.”
Gochis said closing early is beneficial, especially for the employees, although it affects the age range of patrons.
“If anything [closing early] affects the kind of business,” she said. “We get an older crowd.”
Despite the ease with which Boston’s bars close their doors at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., some owners said they want more control over their hours.
Macdonals said, “I think it should be up to the business to decide when they want to close.”