Representatives for the Harvard Club of Boston were on hand for the monthly virtual hearing of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay Licensing and Building Use Committee on Monday, Nov. 6, to discuss their plans to replace a temporary outdoor dining space created along Commonwealth Avenue during the pandemic with a permanent patio.
The permanent patio, which has already gone through the zoning process and been granted a building permit by the city, would be located on either side of the entrance to the establishment on Commonwealth Avenue and comprise 22 seats on one side and 14 seats on the other side, scattered among couches and a large table, said Tom Miller, an attorney for the applicant.
The proposed hours of operation for the permanent, patio would be six days a week (Monday through Friday) from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch; and 5 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner service, said Miller, with all patrons required to be off the patio by 10 p.m.
Seating at the patio would be available by reservation made only by Harvard Club members, added Miller, and limited to only members and their guests.
While the Harvard Club doesn’t expect the patio would be open all 12 months of the year, they are still seeking an annual license to allow for flexibility, especially as unseasonably warm days become increasingly more common during the winter and fall months, said Miller. No music or entertainment is being proposed or considered for the patio, he added.
Steven Cummings, general manager of the Harvard Club of Boston, said while the establishment owns outdoor space heaters, they don’t anticipate the patio season starting before April or extending past mid-November.
The patio would be accessible via entrances located both inside the building and on Commonwealth Avenue, where existing granite curbs would be reduced to make way for two identical iron gates. The gates to the patio, which would be open only during its operating hours, would be installed on either side of the entrance to the Harvard Club, said Cummings.
Once the permanent patio is completed, it will be furnished with crimson umbrellas. “It will be very attractive,” said Cummings.
Moreover, the permanent patio would also allow the Harvard Club to get its temporary dining area off the sidewalk, which currently consists of tables of two nestled between where the two sections of the permanent patio would be located, added Cummings.
Conrad Armstrong, committee chair, expressed his concern with the precedence this application could set for more proposed patios on private front yards along Commonwealth Avenue.
In another matter, the committee heard from representatives for the Boston developer, Samuels & Associates, on their plan to secure a liquor license for a yet-to-be-determined restaurant in the north tower (the Lyric Building) of the Parcel 12 project now under development at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street. (The south tower along Newbury Street would be home to a hotel and have its own liquor license and restaurant operator, separate from what’s proposed in this application, said Nick Zozula, the applicant’s attorney.)
The approximately 1,200 square-foot restaurant space would accommodate 200 diners, said Zozula, with the bulk of this space, measuring around 1,100 square feet, including a 40-to-50-seat outdoor patio on private property, located on the second story while only the restaurant lobby would be found on the building’s ground floor, alongside retail spaces.
Abe Menzin, a Samuels & Associates principal, said the developer is currently “making great progress on the plaza,” with fences coming down and parts of the sidewalk expected to open up in December or January. Samuels would then continue to work on the building’s “core shell” through the spring, he said, and by next summer, there would be some “critical mass in the plaza,” which would include the expected opening of the restaurant.
While Menzin didn’t mention any would-be restaurant operator by name, he said, “We’ve had a lot of interest and a lot of good conversations so we’re confident we’ll have a really great restaurant in there at the end of the day.”
Menzin said that Samuels views the restaurant “as an anchor that would be really critical to the retail operation.”
Samuels obtained the liquor license for the future dining establishment from Sterling’s, a now-defunct restaurant that previously operated at Faneuil Hall, said Zozula, who added the license would be transferred to the restaurant operator, once that party has been identified.
Zozula added that Samuels had obtained this liquor license for the sole purpose of attracting a restaurant operator to the north tower.
“There’s not going to be a bait-and-switch here, where a Michelin five-star restaurant is promised and a McDonald’s comes in,” said Zozula, adding that the future establishment would be an upscale restaurant and not a nightclub.
Elliott Laffer, a NABB director, expressed concern with the proposed arrangement pertaining to the liquor license, which he described as “very unusual,” as well as something that NABB had previously opposed when a couple of applicants on Newbury Street had made similar overtures regarding the transfer of liquor licenses.
Laffer said he also worries that if the liquor license lists a 2 a.m. closing time, as Zozula said would be the case, it would be much more difficult to get a restaurant operator to agree to an earlier closing time.
“That would not be a good place for us to be, especially when we don’t know what the restaurant is,” said Laffer, who also expressed concern about the patio being potentially open late, especially since the building sits directly across the street from a residential building at 360 Newbury St.
Zozula indicated that applicant would likely be “amenable” to an earlier closing time being imposed on the patio.
His reservations aside, Laffer said the primary reason why the committee is even considering the applicant’s request is due to Samuels’ exemplary track record in the neighborhood.
Both Zozula and Menzin made assurances that they would return to the commission with the restaurant operator to discuss specifics, once an operator has been selected for the space.
Armstrong said he would personally follow up with the city’s Licensing Board to ensure that the restaurant operator, once selected, would be obligated to appear before the commission.
Meanwhile, Armstrong told both applicants he would notify them of the determinations made by NABB’s executive committee on their respective applications in the coming weeks.