Monday, April 18, 2011

Updated: Is Howling Wolf violating MA booze laws?

UPDATE: John Zorabedian has written about the inclusion of two restaurant owners on the committee proposing home rule petition rules, and the possible conflict of interest issues over at Salem Patch. Go check it out.

Massachusetts has some crazy arcane alcohol laws, in the name of M.A.D.D. Ever seen a happy hour special in MA? Two drinks for the price of one? Probably not. If you have, they are illegal. It's even illegal for a restaurant to comp a drink in this state. Supposedly all of these things reduce drunk driving. Maybe not, maybe so. Groupon recently had to change it's policy in MA because apparently the discounted gift certificates they sell can no longer be used for booze. The ridiculousness continues.

It's in this environment that Patrick Schultz, owner of Howling Wolf Taqueria, was just appointed to a committee to propose rules around home rule petitions for liquor licenses. His appointment was confirmed at last week's city council meeting. This took place, even though he has a vested interest in the results, as a holder of a seasonal beer and wine license, that I imagine he'd like to convert to full year.

With this apparent conflict of interest in place (there is a competing, opposite conflict of interest, as George Carey of Finz, which has a full-year full-liquor license was also appointed), one would think that Mr. Schultz and Howling Wolf would avoid any and all appearances of impropriety around liquor laws. It's because of this that I was so surprised to stumble across the fact that their Monday night special (going on right this second) is any burrito and any beer for $9.

You see, one of these arcane laws is that a beverage must be priced the same for something like five or seven consecutive days. So you could run a drink special, but you'd have to run it for a week. It's this part of the law that makes the happy hour illegal. At face, it appears that Howling Wolf is running a four hour drink special tonight. This is especially true when you consider that it sells beers at several different prices, and burritos also at several different prices. Nowhere can I find something that says that with the purchase of a beer at regular price, your burrito is discounted to make the total $9. Hopefully Mr. Schultz makes such a text change quickly, as I think he has a nice establishment, and I'm dying to try his sangria. Alternatively, all burritos are $4.50 with the purchase of any beer at regular price would probably work.

Let me be clear. I don't think anything should happen to Howling Wolf. I think the promotion should be allowed to continue. I think the law is dumb and out of date, and I'm not 100% sure that he's violating the law, but I'm betting that the MABCC would at a minimum have an issue with the promotion wording. I'm not an expert on MA alcohol law, but I do know some about it, and they tend to interpret towards the absurd, rather than the sensical.


  1. Shit! Way to pre-empt my story for tomorrow. ;)

  2. I don't get it, G. "I like The Howling Wolf and I don't know whether or not they're doing something illegal but I think maybe they are so I want the world to know about it but I hope this doesn't cause problems for them..." Am I reading what I think I am?
    Thanks for screwing up our beer and burrito special for us, G!

  3. My main point is that the rules in MA are ridiculous. This is one specific example. I work in marketing, and can tell you that the way they are advertising it runs afoul of MA law. At a minimum it needs fine print, which it doesn't have.

  4. Should be an easy correction on their part.

  5. ok, I think I get it, G. You want that special to be available every day, not just one day a week. Now THAT makes sense!

  6. I want all restaurants to be able to run whatever promotions that they want. Promotions are great. In this arcane state, that doesn't fly.


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