When it comes to Boston nightlife, one often-repeated problem is the lack of options for people of color — in places where they feel safe and included.
But some locations in the area are trying to change that, by carving out space to celebrate the city's variety of cultures, food and music.
That includes Grace by Nia in the Seaport: a modern day supper club that blends the sounds of jazz, soul and R&B with a twist on Black comfort food, like gumbo ceviche, and carrot cake chicken and waffles.
Nia Grace, who opened the restaurant in May, describes the dining experience as being "fully immersed in this kind of really big, genuine hug."
The Roxbury native is also owner of Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen, which she took over from Darryl Settles in 2018. Places like Darryl’s, and now Grace, make many patrons feel free, when other venues don't.
In a 2019 survey by the Conservation Law Foundation, 24 percent of Black people reported feeling unwelcome in the Seaport, compared to just 6 percent of their white counterparts.
Only a handful of businesses in the area are minority-owned — but Grace is looking for that to change.
"We feel this city as well. And outside of just feeling welcomed here at other establishments, it's time for us to have an establishment of our own and establishments of our own," she said.
That includes the Black-owned ZaZiBar, that sits on the first floor of the same building that houses Grace.
For most venues in the Seaport, a night out typically comes at a higher price point. At Grace, customers pay a $10 or $25 entertainment fee on top of their bill based on where they sit.
For patrons like Dana Martin of Attleboro, it's worth it to support a Black-owned business in the city's fastest growing area.
"Especially with all the work that's been going on around here," she said. "But when we walk around here, it doesn't seem like there's really anything that I would really be interested in. Maybe specific nights, but there wasn't anything that really screamed, ‘this is exactly where me and my people really want to go.’"
Along with food, there is an effort to bring familiarity and comfort to the music experience at Grace, according to Musical Director Adonis Martin.
"My intent is to play the classics, so I guess the music that has survived and spanned through decades," he said. "No matter how old you are, you're going to recognize 'Never Too Much' by Luther Vandross. No matter what area you grew up in, you know that song."
Martin said the majority of bands that play here are local, and consist of people of color. The venue also spotlights emerging talent with its weekly "Let It Flow" open mic sessions.
"The goal is to reach past your ears and reach [your heart]," he said. "So if you're moving a little bit with your chicken or your ribs in your hand, trying to bite that, then we're serving our purpose, you know what I mean?"
It's a similar story five miles away in Cambridge at La Fabrica, a Caribbean rum bar honoring the many shades of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Owner Dennis Benzan has been in charge since 2017 — building on his experience growing up in a community of Caribbean immigrants.
"So when you come to La Fabrica, you feel like you're transplanted," he said. "You feel like you're in [the Caribbean]."
The menu reflects the venue's cultural diversity — with options like Mofongo, Chicharrón de Pollo, Chicharrón de Cerdo or even a Latin sushi roll.
"I carry that culture in my heart, so what we represent here at La Fabrica is authentic," Benzan said.
The restaurant doubles as a nightclub, which charges a $10 cover on busier nights. Patrons like Cristina Guapacha come here to dance, noting a lack of options in the Boston area.
"I like Latin music, but we only have so many places, that's the thing," Guapacha said. "We always come here or Havana [Club]. We need more."
Benzan attributes that to the barriers to entry for potential bar and club owners of color, like securing a place that will allow liquor sales.
"That costs quite a bit of capital nowadays — and so access to capital is also a major impediment," he said.
He added that out of the 1400+ licenses in the city of Boston, around ten are minority owned. That number is even smaller in Cambridge — but Benzan said setting up shop in Cambridge can be a little cheaper.
The city of Cambridge allows business owners to acquire a no-valid, non-transferable license, which would go back to the city if a venue closes, rather than being sold to another owner for up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Benzan said most of his staff is Black or Latino, and he says running the business with them helps to share their culture and history with people from all over the world.
"La Fabrica gets its name from the idea that you make rum from sugar cane. But you can't represent yourself as La Fabrica if you don't acknowledge the hardships that the Haitian people go through in the Dominican Republic," he said. "And so you will see images of people of color cutting sugar cane in the Caribbean."
As he pushes for more owners of color to join him, Benzan is grateful for the ones already there.
"I admire the work that Darryl Settles and Nia Grace have done in Boston, [along with] the owners of Slades, the owners of Wally's, because they have survived and they have overcome all the obstacles that continue to persist today to be able to open up for business," he said.