With ‘pocket license’ from T.T.’s days taken, Sonia nightclub will be able to serve alcohol

The bar at Sonia, 10 Brookline St., Central Square, will be able to serve alcohol with approval from state regulators – more than nine months after the club opened. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Nearing a year since opening, the Sonia nightclub will be able to serve beer, wine and alcohol alongside the rest of the Sater family’s entertainment and dining complex in Central Square, including The Middle East and ZuZu.

The License Commission approved the family’s request Wednesday, and now the application goes to the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

Sonia opened March 31 at 10 Brookline St. after full renovations to the space that had been T.T. the Bear’s Place until July 2015, but the club – named after Sonia Sater – has been operating without alcoholic beverages while T.T.’s owner Bonney Bouley held onto the license once used at that address. The location-based hindrance is known as a “pocket license.”

“We desperately needed that liquor license. We did the renovations to be able to use that space for multiple uses – as a club and for events,” said Joseph Sater as he left the commission hearing with Sonia Sater. “We’re excited and happy. It’s been a long time.”

T.T.’s to Sonia

T.T.’s operated at the location for 43 years, until a surge in rent followed the Saters’ purchase of the property for $7.1 million in December 2014. The purchase was made to avoid losing their sprawling home in Central Square as their old landlord’s kids looked to sell.

It brought sudden, gargantuan mortgage payments, leading to pressure on T.T.’s as a tenant. “They had upped the rent $3,000. I was already paying $8,500,” T.T.’s owner Bonney Bouley has said. “You couldn’t fit enough people in there to pay the lease, what with all the other payments” such as liquor and utilities.

Bouley had hoped to sell the sole remaining asset from the club to pay for her retirement and health expenses. But changes in commission policies since the 2016 arrival of chairwoman Nicole Murati Ferrer, who found several violating state law, burst a bubble on the value of the licenses. Though Bouley had paid $60,000 in 1973 – the equivalent of $347,413 in today’s dollars – its value has plummeted to zero.

The commission took away the unused license in November, rejecting a lawyer’s request that the commission buy it back to make up for having “created illegal regulations that manipulated the market.”

Show of support

The Saters’ request for a license Wednesday came with a massive show of support, including letters from four sitting city councillors, three members of the city’s legislative delegation, neighbors, the Central Square Business Association and the Ward 5 Democratic Committee, as well as a petition with 2,100 names.

“This area is one that has been viewed as a vital center for creating business in the Central Square district,” a representative of the Saters told the commission, noting that the family had been active in the square for nearly five decades.

The 3,332-square-foot club holds 350 people total, having adding to the capacity at T.T.’s by halving its bar space and eliminating two pool tables. With the bar moved far to the side, the most prominent feature at Sonia is a relocated stage, a 22-by-16-foot platform that juts far out onto a handsome paneled floor, allowing audience on three sides. There’s a raised, VIP-style seating area at the back and a small platform overlooking the floor that can be used by DJs.

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