Mayor Marty Walsh Calls for Keeping Bars Open Past 3 a.m.

Don't go popping bottles in celebration just yet—there are still a few bureaucratic obstacles in the way.

In a move that would make the Puritans’ jaws hit the floor and their eyeballs roll back in their heads, Mayor Marty Walsh pushed business and community leaders to consider the idea of keeping Boston’s bars and restaurants open a bit later in an effort to bolster the late-night appeal of the city.

If passed, Walsh’s proposal could keep bars and certain eateries open until 3:30 a.m., allowing watering holes to serve alcohol to patrons past the current 1 a.m. last call. Bars could serve booze until 2:30 a.m., and let customers linger around and “dance” before closing down for the night.

“I’m appointing a Late Night Task Force, a diverse group of restaurant and bar owners who will look at how we can foster a safe and vibrant late-night culture,” Walsh said during a speech at the Boston Municipal Research Bureau’s annual meeting at the Seaport Hotel on Friday. “[They’ll be] working with the state on legal barriers, and listening to voices all over the city. Those international students who flock to our colleges, we want them to stay here, start their business, and tell their friends back home that Boston is the place to be.”

To achieve this unprecedented move, a team will be tasked with figuring out what hours and which areas of the city should become the test subject for a pilot program before a full-on, late-night bonanza unfolds across Boston. As an example, Walsh said the Seaport District could serve as the testing ground for extending last call.

“One of the things I hear a lot around Boston is that we close too early,” he said, in an interview with reporters  following his speech. “Our economy is changing and our work force is changing, and I think it’s something we need to look at.”

Walsh said there isn’t a timeline on getting a report together from the Task Force just yet, but he hopes to maybe have something together by May. He said tacking hours onto last call would let patrons stagger out of clubs, rather than flood the streets all at once. “When the bars close down now, everybody hits the streets at the same time. This would allow people to stay and dance if they want to,” he said.

Walsh, who outlined other initiatives to try and reshape the city, also announced he would create a cabinet-level position to address the arts and culture sector. Walsh promised such a move during his campaign, and artists remained hopeful he would follow through.

The speech was Walsh’s first before the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, and was an outline of what he called a “global vision” for Boston, to make it more attractive to both people and businesses that are already here, or are considering moving here.

Dan Koh, Walsh’s chief of staff, said in order to make the city more desirable to both outsiders and current residents, this discussion needs to be on the table. “My view on this is, if you truly want make Boston an international city, you need to look at all things that will make the city attractive,” he said. “We need to make sure we have an entire package on the table, and that includes things like late-night options.”

Koh said the task force won’t only look at extending bar hours, they will also look at things such as offering 24-hour gyms and other things to do after-hours. Koh said the biggest struggle will be to figure out how to change the city’s nightlife without disrupting the neighborhoods, something that has been a persistent problem for residents in the North End when the bars let out.

Of course, as with everything, there’s a catch to the proposal. Walsh will have to convene the Task Force, get a report, and then put language together in the form of a bill, which will then have to be passed along to the State Legislature for approval. Elected officials on Beacon Hill are the ones in charge of the entire state’s liquor laws.

The Task Force could also come back with an unfavorable recommendation, said Koh, if they can’t find away to make later bar hours happen. “They could come back and say there is no path forward. But obviously the mayor is hopeful there is, and that they will be able to find ways to make it work.”

The move for a later last call coincides with the MBTA’s recent efforts to keep the trains and select buses running into the early morning hours. Starting in March, trains and certain buses will run until 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays as part of a pilot program, thanks to money from the state budget and partnerships with select corporate sponsors.