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Globe Editorial

Liquor licenses: Driving foodies across the Charles

May 15, 2011

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Whether Cambridge has better restaurants than Boston should be a debate among foodies and civic boosters. What it shouldn’t be is the byproduct of an antiquated state law. For that reason, Globe food critic Devra First’s recent comparison of the restaurants in the two cities should be required reading on Beacon Hill. Cambridge chef Jason Bond identified the biggest reason why the restaurant scene north of the Charles shows a greater spirit of innovation: “A liquor license in Boston costs more than my whole restaurant.’’

The price of liquor licenses isn’t Boston’s fault. Even though the number of licenses in any city or town should be a local matter, a 1933 state law imposed limits that can’t be changed without the Legislature’s permission. The law was pure prejudice; Yankee legislators didn’t trust Irish-American officials in Boston to make the right decisions. But in the decades since, legislators haven’t been shy about holding their authority over cities and towns. As a result, Boston has a shortfall of liquor licenses, and prices have skyrocketed. That may not stop celebrity chefs from expanding their empires, but it’s tough for independent restaurateurs. The Legislature should loosen its grip.