The Drinks Are on Them

In dominating the city’s liquor license scene, the law firm of McDermott, Quilty & Miller has lots to celebrate. The rest of us? Not so much.

But access is expensive. And those least able to afford it are most often the ones who represent the lifeblood of a city’s dining scene: the up-and-coming chefs sharpening their knives on the edge of culinary trends and the mom-and-pops trying to build something up in a developing neighborhood.

Take Felipe Duran, who came to America from his native Dominican Republic a decade ago. After spending five years working in the kitchen at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he opened a sit-down Dominican restaurant, Guira y Tambora, in January. With its bright walls, mini palm trees, and piped-in Caribbean music, the Roslindale restaurant is a decidedly cheery spot. “We don’t have many places in Boston with Dominican food, where you can go and sit down and share a moment with someone,” he said when I talked with him in October. “We’re trying to make something different.”

At the time, Duran was also trying to get a liquor license, in the hope of drawing badly needed customers. It had taken him several months before he finally had a line on a transfer. Just the week previous to our meeting, he’d been before the board, seeking to buy a beer and wine license from a restaurant elsewhere in the city. It was an expensive outlay (though Duran declined to say exactly how much it cost), but it was likely necessary to keep him in business. The previous operation at the site, a Mexican restaurant, folded because of its inability to obtain a license, he says.

Duran had his application in order with the neighborhood groups and officials, and a few days after our meeting he would learn that the board had approved his license transfer. As of press time, he was still waiting for the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission’s signoff (usually a rubber stamp, albeit one that takes several weeks). Even once Duran can serve alcohol, though, there’s no guarantee his business will be able to recover: Diners had nearly a year to form the habit of not showing up for dinner, and that’s a tough one to break.

I asked Duran if, knowing what he does now, he’d still have opened the restaurant. “I don’t think so,” he said.