Felipe’s got alcohol until 2 a.m. all week? Licensers says it’s ‘an error,’ not policy
For a moment it looked like Cambridge was tilting toward later hours for dining and drinking. At a hearing last week, the License Commission approved without comment the serving of beer, wine and alcohol until 2 a.m. seven days a week at Felipe’s Taqueria – a kind of late-night drinking that has traditionally been rejected by commissioners.
But those commissioners are taking back the vote, executive director and counsel to the commission Elizabeth Lint said, calling it “an error” and not “really what the applicants expected.”
It’s not so clear that’s the case for Felipe Herrera and Thomas Brush, co-owners of Felipe’s at 33 Brattle St., Harvard Square – moving to 21 Brattle St. possibly as soon as Nov. 21 so the current location can be solely a Flat Patties burger eatery. (There are also four locations in Louisiana.) Herrera confirmed Thursday that the request that appeared on the commission’s Oct. 30 agenda was exactly what they wanted.
Their attorney, though, acknowledged that the restaurant’s existing 2 a.m. common victualler license could have muddled discussion. When told Thursday the commission was taking back its granting of the seven-day all-alcohol license to that hour, attorney Kevin Crane said, “Whatever the License Commission is going to do, they’re going to do. I really don’t know what the confusion is there.”
Basha is back
Another such license is sought at the commission’s Wednesday hearing, when Basha Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar will also ask to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. seven days a week.
Basha, at 26 New St., North Cambridge, has a curious history: It opened in December 2008 but became Casbah in September 2011, lasting for about six months as the new owner shifted the focus from entertainment for a late-night Mediterranean party crowd to more traditional dining. Casbah employee Sarah Shabana reopened as Basha with a soft opening in February 2013, returning some of the entertainment aspects, but a year later Ali Kooros, a friend of Shabana’s, took over and changed the name to Alborz Mediterranean Grill to run it as a “family restaurant” – while maintaining a 2 a.m. closing time on weekends to serve people working late “in the medical field.”
Now the Basha name is back under manager Tesfaye Andrage, with nightclub-style lighting, promoting its DJ’d dancing and boasting of its full bar and cocktails. Eater.com remarked last year that it was unusual for a restaurant to return from the dead, but Basha is doing it again.
Patio design drew attention
Felipe’s got an hourlong hearing Oct. 30, but no one appeared to protest the seven-day, 2 a.m. all-alcohol license.
Most debate was about the 60-seat seasonal patio, with its 12-seat bar, and what kind of effect its presence and design would have on neighbors, mainly office buildings; the one neighbor who sent in a lawyer to oppose Felipe’s plans was Trinity Property Management, landlord for The Sinclair performance space, restaurant and bar. It has a seasonal roof deck of its own that faced significant resident opposition and grilling from license commissioners about its hours.
Brush, Herrera and Crane had familiar arguments for a no-transfer alcohol license: Transfer licenses available at around $200,000 from the former ManRay or Western Front are too expensive for a “mom and pop” business such as Felipe’s, like Crane said at his September presentation for the Loyal Nine restaurant in East Cambridge; and diners at a Mexican restaurant expect margaritas, as Cancun Taqueria argued before the commission in November.
But despite the level of detail into which commission debate delved – whether Harvard Square’s Daedalus had a bar on its roof deck or just inside the upper-floor door, whether Felipe’s planned to have a canopy or play music before 8 p.m., whether plans really showed a “drink rail” – there was no comment from any of the three commissioners about the restaurant serving alcohol until 2 a.m. seven days a week. “We spent so much time talking about the roof deck,” Lint said.
No such policy
There is no such alcohol policy in Cambridge. The commission had to create a seven-day, 2 a.m. beer and wine license category in June 2012 when Tasty Burger came to Harvard Square asking for the right the previous month. It was noted that eateries bid for all-alcohol licenses just to serve beer and wine, because the all-alcohol category existed and the beer-and-wine version didn’t.
“This has arisen because an application was accepted and approved for a 2 a.m. wine and malt, but we have never created the wine and malt 2 a.m. category. And there really is no reason that we never created it, other than no one ever requested it,” Lint said at the time. “We did a search through License Commission records going back about 25 years, and we found absolutely nothing.”
There were also no opponents to Tasty Burger’s all-week beer and wine license. The commission’s chairman at the time, Michael Gardner, said he was “surprised and encouraged, given some of our recent experience, that we don’t have any public opposition to having another reasonably large operation selling alcohol late into the evening.”
A seven-day, 2 a.m. license as requested by Felipe’s and Basha would require another public hearing to create a new license category, Lint said Thursday.
“Should we be the first?”
The category would be contrary to years of commission policy, during which commissioners would simply tell applicants “Our 2 a.m. licenses don’t go seven days a week. I think you applied for 2 a.m. seven days a week. Our 2 a.m. licenses are Thursday, Friday and Saturday” and every Sunday before a legal holiday – as then commission chairman Richard Scali told the owners of Evoo and Za as they moved to Kendall Square in August 2009.
“They’re requesting that we change our policy and grant 2 a.m. every night of the week, right?” Scali asked the restaurateurs’ lawyer, James Rafferty.
“No, we’re really not,” Rafferty said in a bout of lighthearted repartee. “In fact, I wish we didn’t, and I think we can amend the request because that feels a little aggressive, and we would never want to develop a reputation … That was really a test to see if people pay as close attention as they’re rumored to.”
The same approach brought retreats on all-week late licenses at restaurants including Area Four in January 2010 and at SlawDog, which became State Park, in May 2013.
Lint explained the policy to State Park’s Alon Munzer last year by summing up, “There’s no seven-days 2 a.m.s.”
“Should we be the first?” Munzer asked.
While Lint warned there would have to be a public hearing to approve it, Gardner had a blunter approach: “In a word, no,” Gardner told Munzer.
“So with that application as amended, I will second the motion,” Gardner said. “Any further discussion?”
There was not.
New Street, where Basha is located, is not in North Cambridge. Rather, the street is the northern border of what the city calls Neighborhood 9, a predominantly residential area which encompasses the Fresh Pond-Concord Ave-Danehy and Avon Hill neighborhoods. The former road to the town dump (now Danehy Park), New Street is evolving into a residential mixed use area, with the development of a 54-unit apartment building in 2010 and another 93 units proposed. As currently laid out, the street is not within an easy or safe walk to a T stop, so late night patrons would likely be in cars.