Liquor license goes to Mulino’s as bar owners debate need for more

  • Jason Messier, an employee of Bishop’s Lounge, shakes hands with Volkan Polatol after Polatol, owner of Mulino's and Bishop's Lounge, bought the Diva's liquor license being auctioned off Thursday afternoon in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jason Messier, an employee of Bishops Lounge, Volkan Polatol, owner of Mulino's and Bishop's Lounge, Jackie Tapia,manager of Mulino's, during the auction of the Diva's liquor licenese Thursday afternoon that went to Volkan Polatol, owner of Mulino's and Bishop's Lounge. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jason Messier, an employee of Bishops Lounge, Volkan Polatol, owner of Mulino's and Bishop's Lounge, Jackie Tapia,manager of Mulino's, and Michael Wou, owner of The Tea Pot during the auction of the Diva's liquor license Thursday afternoon. Polatol got the license. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Volkan Polatol talks to the auctioneer, Edward Smith, after Poltaol bought the Diva's liquor license being auctioned Thursday afternoon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Eric Suher and Bob McGovern, owner of Packard's , during the auction of the Diva's liquor license Thursday afternoon that went to Volkan Polatol, owner of Mulino's and Bishop's Lounge. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Eric Suher and Bob McGovern, owner of Packard's , during the auction of the Diva's liquor license Thursday afternoon that went to Volkan Polatol, owner of Mulino's and Bishop's Lounge. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

@amandadrane
Published: 6/8/2017 11:04:12 PM

NORTHAMPTON — What’s the best way to give out a liquor license in Northampton, one may ask. By lottery? Auction?

The city chose the former last time, but the Massachusetts Department of Revenue chose the latter to dole out Diva’s former license on Thursday after owner Lori Conte failed to pay some $42,000 in taxes. Volkan Polatol, owner of Mulino’s and Bishop’s Lounge, won the license for a price of $62,500.

Buzz about how to handle growing dissatisfaction with the state’s “antiquated” liquor laws came in no short supply at the event.

Area business mogul Eric Suher and Packards owner Bobby McGovern sat at the table, but did not bid. The auction began with a minimum bid of $25,000.

Teapot Restaurant owner Michael Wou and Polatol went bid for bid up to a $50,000 bid from Wou. It seemed like the battle had been won when Polatol said: “Can I have a second?” He whispered to his constituents before throwing in a bid for $55,000.

Wou responded, bidding $60,000.

“Now we can break down more, if you want,” said auctioneer Ed Smith. “Can I get a 62.5?”

Polatol took the bait. Eyes in the room turned to Wou, who signified his defeat with a wave of the hand.

“Sold! For 62.5,” Smith announced.

Smith told Polatol he’s expected to pay the bid amount within five business days, plus a 10 percent fee to the auctioneer. Revenues from the auction go to the DOR to pay off the former owner’s debt, plus expenses.

Polatol said the new license won’t make any difference for patrons at his neighboring establishments, as he already has a full bar at both of them. The two businesses currently share a license, but by buying this second license he’s able to keep the two venues separate. If each venue has its own license, then “if something happens to one business it doesn’t happen to the other.”

“I just wanted to get that cloud out of the way,” he said. “I wanted to kind of keep them separate.”

Saturated market

Suher declined comment, but McGovern said the two were there keeping an eye on liquor licenses in the city. He said he’s concerned about more over-quota licenses coming into town.

“The more licenses you allow — what it’s done is it’s saturated the market,” he said, calling it “a bad idea.” He said barriers to entry are better kept high, as those who sink big money into a liquor license are more invested in the success of their venture.

Suher and McGovern said the day’s sale — which falls far below the upwards of $100,000 that liquor licenses often go for on the private market — is an example of how the value of a liquor license in Northampton is already declining. McGovern said that means that for those who own liquor licenses in town, their assets are diminishing.

“I’m just trying to keep my nose above the water level,” McGovern said.

Polatol agreed.

“We lose the value on the back end,” he said.

Mayor David Narkewicz said he understands that business owners are concerned about their assets, but he’s lobbying for more liquor licenses as a means to spur economic development citywide. He said he’s sick of seeing would-be downtown business owners open restaurants elsewhere because liquor licenses in the city are so unattainable.

“I think there’s a bit of protectionism involved,” he said of friction between him and those who share McGovern’s view. But “for economic development, when we have to turn businesses away because they can’t serve all of the kinds of food and beverages that they want, that’s not a good thing.”

‘Weird inequities’

On Tuesday, Narkewicz testified before a task force charged with reviewing liquor laws in the state. The Alcohol Task Force’s hearing in Northampton was one of six held statewide this spring. Narkewicz argued the population-based quota system that currently dictates how many liquor licenses the state grants each city is outdated.

“It creates these weird inequities between communities,” he said, referencing how some are somehow exempt from the quota system or have far more over-quota licenses than others.

When the Fairfield Inn and Suites was eyeing its current site in the city, Narkewicz said, he had no liquor license to offer the company in exchange for the jobs the hotel would create for Northampton.

“I had to go to the Legislature to get them one,” he said. “We waited 18 months. It’s an incredibly long amount of time when you’re potentially competing for a new hotel or a new business.”

Narkewicz also lobbied the Legislature for four over-quota licenses for four downtown restaurants that wanted them. Granted last year, the four licenses he specifically designed so they can’t be sold on the private market. If those restaurants close or sell their businesses, the licenses must be surrendered to the city for redistribution.

“They don’t have a street value,” he said. “It’s never made sense to me that you can buy and sell a license.”

One Bar’s former liquor license is also up for grabs on the private market. PeoplesBank called its pledge on the asset and is currently seeking a buyer. And the former Clarion Hotel’s liquor license is in flux as the owners decide if and how they can use it.

“It is supply and demand,” the mayor said. “And there’s more supply right now so that tends to drive down the price.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.




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