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The Pearl, a seafood restaurant and raw bar, sits on a corner between a chain ramen shop and a clothing store, one of several dining options within Dorchester’s South Bay Center.
Drawing patrons from Dorchester, Roxbury, the South End and South Boston, the location gives the Black-owned restaurant a chance to welcome "everybody in the city," said Luther Pinckney, The Pearl's director of operations.
It wasn't the first spot the team behind The Pearl considered — Pinckney said they originally wanted to be "deeper in the heart of Roxbury," where he and his partners have long community ties. But, crucially, it was one where they were able to secure a full liquor license through their landlord.
"It was really the only way to actually be able to get in the position to be able to open a restaurant and bar," Pinckney said.
Pinckney says plenty of familiar neighborhood faces come through the restaurant, where they can order oysters, steak tips and chargrilled lobster — and wash it down with a whiskey-and-ginger-beer cocktail called The Roxbury. He estimates that about 40% of business comes from "friends and family, people who followed us through the years who are here to support us and get value for their dollar."
It’s the kind of story Boston officials suggested they want to write more of, when they trekked up Beacon Hill to ask lawmakers for 250 more liquor licenses. A City Council-approved proposal would gradually make 25 new licenses available in each of 10 ZIP codes, covering Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, East Boston, Roslindale, West Roxbury and Hyde Park.
Massachusetts’ longstanding liquor-licensing system means it’s ultimately lawmakers and the governor who decide if and when the city should get any more.
Lawmakers vetting the proposal peppered Mayor Michelle Wu and councilors with questions about the threat of gentrification, potential proliferation of big-business chains, demand for licenses in the targeted neighborhoods and more.
The city’s case: scarcity of licenses pushes their resale prices to astronomical heights, concentrating new development in wealthier, less diverse parts of town and boxing out local entrepreneurs who want to serve their communities.
Nearly two and a half years after opening the South Bay location of The Pearl, its owners are now working on a second outpost, on Guest Street in Brighton. This time around, Pinckney said, they bid $650,000 for a liquor license on the open market.
Obviously, restaurateurs willing to fork over big bucks for a liquor license hope they'll recoup that investment in time. Pinckney sees that stretch of Brighton as one that also needs more restaurants and bars. (Its 02134 ZIP code isn't one considered under the pending bill, but it may be permanently embedded in the heads oflongtime GBH viewers).
Pinckney thinks the bill makes sense.
"Every community deserves to have a watering hole, a place to have shared gatherings, meetings, to be able to commemorate, to be able to commiserate, to be able to meet locally over a beverage," he said.
Want to commemorate or commiserate over Boston’s new liquor-licensing ideas? Drop us a line.