The Wilbur Theater: Boston’s Dry Rock ‘n Roll Venue

1218048163A horrifying thing happened last night at the Wilbur. My friend and I slid up to the bar shortly before Eli “Paperboy” Reed & the True Loves took the stage to open for Duffy, and found something disturbing sitting on the counter.

“Soda only. SORRY!” A hastily-scrawled sign read.

Say what? In that terrifying instant we immediately regretted our choice to pass on a Tsingtao with our pre-concert noodles at Pho Pasteur. The bartender (soda jerk?) apologized as we walked toward the stage in a daze.

Members of Reed’s band had the foresight to smuggle in some Pabst tallboys, but concertgoers were left to sip diet Cokes. When the Welsh songstress was midway through her first song, even she noticed the crowd was largely sober.

“Why are you all so well-behaved?” she asked.

Probably because there isn’t any beer.

We hadn’t known until Reed mentioned it during his performance, but last night’s rock show was the first for the Wilbur Theater, which is transitioning into a music venue. It’s clear it wasn’t entirely ready for its debut—the partitions between stalls in the restroom were unfinished wood, and the bathroom walls were still covered with spackle. But what of the alcohol-free environment?

Comedy Connection owner Bill Blumenreich recently took over the lease for the theater, so we called the club’s box office to see why the concertgoing public was deprived of the opportunity to overpay for cheap beer. A man named Andy answered and said it was a licensing issue, and that it should be resolved “pretty soon.”

When we asked if that meant in time for tonight’s Gnarls Barkley show, he said, “not certain.”

Undaunted, we check with Mayor Tom Menino’s spokeswoman Dot Joyce to find out if the entertainment license issues reported in today’s Herald had any effect on the Wilbur’s ability to sell alcohol.

“The liquor license is separate” from the entertainment license, Joyce says in an email. She then refers us to Dan Pokaski at the Boston Licensing Board.

Pokaski says that the city gave its approval to the Wilbur, but that the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has yet to sign off on it. He explains that the city gives the initial approval, the state looks for problems (like unpaid taxes) that would prohibit a venue getting licensed, and then the city issues the license after the state gives its OK.

“Pending approval from the state, they do have a license,” Pokaski says. He adds that it only takes the city about 15 minutes to physically issue the license.

We then called the ABCC to find out if they would sign off on the paperwork in time for Gnarls Barkley fans to have a drink at tonight’s show. ABCC employee Hurshel Langham says that the Wilbur has had a liquor license since 1987.

“The application was for an alteration of premises, which is whatever physical changes they’re doing that would alter the drinking environment,” Langham says.

He gave us this example—if a restaurant adds an outdoor patio, it can’t serve liquor outside until it gets the new license, but it can continue to pour drinks for the patrons inside. We ask him if that could mean the theater would be prohibited from selling booze if it had relocated its bar, but he didn’t know.

Does all this make you need a drink? Because we sure could go for a cold one right about now.

So our advice to you is this, Gnarls Barkley fans—you would be wise to have a couple of pops before you head to the Wilbur Theater tonight. Odds are good that you won’t be able to get a drink once you arrive.