Just after quitting time on a recent Thursday night, hundreds of people, many in business casual attire, gathered in an outdoor area in Downtown Crossing eating free chips, listening to live music and drinking various beers that cost $2 each.
While some patrons said they view the atmosphere and cheap drinks offered at the Downtown Crossing Block Party event as a happy hour, the laws of Massachusetts disagree.
There has been a statewide ban on happy hours – abbreviated times when establishments offer free or discounted drinks – since 1984. But the Downtown Crossing Block Party may be the happy medium to the regulations, which are currently being reviewed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission since the passage of a new law that allows for free drinks at future casinos.
“Happy hour” regulations prohibit establishments from serving free drinks to patrons or from discounting the prices of drinks in the same day or same calendar week. Because the prices of beer ($2) and wine ($3) do not change during the time the Downtown Crossing Block Party is open, it is not considered a happy hour.
The block parties, organized by the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, operate from 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from late spring to early fall in a temporary space on Summer Street. There’s no brick-and-mortar building to maintain or pay rent on, and no employees to pay to keep the establishment open for hours every day. The event, which is in its third year, has become increasing popular, attracting hundreds of patrons each night it is open.
Rosemarie Sansone, the president of the BID, said that so far there haven’t been any problems at the free, 21-and-older event.
“We have a detail officer and people … checking IDs,” she said. “It’s over at 8 p.m. and it’s pretty well managed because there’s quite a bit of security on hand and it’s in a very public area.”
The final block parties of the season are being held this week.
When asked why she came to the block party rather than a bar on a recent Thursday night, Erin Sinclair was quick with her answer.
“Cheap beer,” she said, adding that it was “very, very strong” factor in her decision to head to the block party that night and throughout the summer.
She said if she and her friends were to go somewhere else downtown for a drink, they would end up paying $4 or $5 or $8 at places on the waterfront.
“Not a lot of places have that — to be outside and drink cheap beer,” said Annie Nunziata who drank cans of Shark Top beer with Sinclair.
Another patron, Carlos Poveda, said he meets up with friends after work at the block party because of the outdoor environment, the live music and the beer prices.
“Two dollars? Can’t beat that,” he said.