Emptying a Bar

By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  02/12/2006

The list of alleged violations attached to its liquor license reads like a rap sheet: gambling on premises in 1997 (employees and management involved); assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on premises in 2001 (employees fail to render assistance and refused to call 911); patron leaving with an open beer in 2002; overcrowding in 2002 ; suspension for serving alcohol to a minor in 2005, and more.

The paper trail attached to Mary Ann's, for decades a mecca for Boston College students, ends with an incident last October, when a veteran cop inspecting the Brighton bar fell down a staircase while pursuing underage students. At least one of them had entered with an out-of-state fake ID, police said.

After that incident, the Boston Licensing Board, for at least the sixth time since 1989, records show, voted to suspend Mary Ann's liquor license for several days. "We told them the situation was out of hand, that they had to do something," said Daniel F. Pokaski, the board's chairman.

Shortly afterward, the owner made a significant, business-altering decision -- the only of its kind for a bar in Boston, Pokaski said.

On the brick walls at the bar's entrance, Stanley Chaban, the owner, hung signs outlining Mary Ann's new "no exceptions" ID policy. The bar, the sign blares in capital letters, will no longer allow anyone to enter with only an out-of-state license or foreign passport for ID, not even those age 21 or older.

For a neighborhood with thousands of out-of-state and foreign residents, the result has had a predictable effect at Mary Ann's: Business has taken a dive.
Around midnight one recent Saturday, when the well-worn bar would usually be hopping, with lines forming under its old yellow sign off Beacon Street, Mary Ann's was all but empty, the staff of bartenders and bouncers often exceeding its trickle of customers. The staff spent much of the night playing cribbage and watching a TV snowboarding competition.

When several potential patrons walked through the door, some of whom looked well into their 20s, the bouncers glanced at their IDs, pointed to the signs behind them, and quickly sent them on their way. They all had what appeared to be valid out-of-state licenses.

Asked in a phone interview why he took action the Licensing Board didn't require, Chaban declined to comment.

How could he stay in business, when his own bartenders say volume has dropped about 80 percent under the new policy?

"No comment."

Would he consider revising his decision?

"No comment."

If the new policy has miffed many local students and left the staff wondering about their job security, it has pleased local police.

"Mary Ann's is notorious for student drinking problems they're probably number one for repeat offenses in recent years," said Captain William B. Evans, who's in charge of enforcing laws in Allston-Brighton.

Asked if he could estimate how many of the bar's former customers were underage drinkers using fake IDs, Evans said, "I have no idea . . . All I can say is it's encouraging that they've cracked down. I don't have a lot of sympathy for them when officers are getting hurt there."

The officer hurt at Mary Ann's last fall injured his knee, Evans said, and couldn't work for two months.

Mary Ann's may be going overboard, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association's president said, but he argued the problem is state law, which doesn't consider out-of-state licenses a valid form of identification. To buy alcohol, the only acceptable ID under state law is a valid Massachusetts driver's license or liquor ID, military ID, or US passport, said officials of the restaurant association, which represents more than 5,000 restaurants, bars, and other establishments in the state.

"We've tried to expand it to valid out-of-state licenses, but the opposition argues it's too easy to get them over the Internet," said Peter Christie, association president. "Without protection under the law, I don't blame the bar. But it's a desperate solution, one few bars could probably afford."

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said Mary Ann's employees have the right to serve whomever they want, as long as they're not discriminating against anyone because of race, sex, or religion.

"State of origin is not a protected class," said John Reinstein, the ACLU's legal director. "The question is whether there's any rational basis for this."

Some of Mary Ann's business has apparently migrated to nearby Roggies Brew & Grill on Chestnut Hill Avenue, where manager Spiro Dimopoulos has seen a small spike in business.

Many of the bargoers recently denied entrance to Mary Ann's , one of the few student bars within walking distance of Cleveland Circle, left livid.

After being turned away for showing what appeared to be a valid California driver's license, Kendall Krische stood in the cold, dumbfounded.

"I can't believe it," said Krische, 22, from San Diego, whose friends were also rejected for showing out-of-state IDs. "I'd heard so much about this bar, I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I guess I won't be coming back."

Michael Howard, 27, and Chris Rubio, 28, business graduate students at Babson College, wanted to let off some stress after studying.

Rebuffed for showing a Michigan license, Howard said: "It feels like East Berlin in 1988, but even there they probably let you drink." Then there was Adam Titus, 22, who said he felt particularly discriminated against, given that his home in Salem, N.H., is little more than 30 miles from Boston.

Walking away, he offered words that could be an omen for what has long been the epicenter of local nightlife.

"I guess we'll just find another bar," he said.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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