Northampton mayor wants to add 7 all-alcohol licenses, continue outdoor dining

  • Bar manager Rayla Shawanda pours an amaro Friday night at the Dirty Truth in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Published: 2/6/2023 8:17:38 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Kyle Anderson has a vision that one day his downtown pub will be a place for people to get a full cocktail experience, something he feels is lacking in the area.

“We look at it as an opportunity to draw people in the mixology field to western Mass,” Anderson said.

But for now, that vision is on hold as The Dirty Truth, at 29 Main St., has been unable to secure a coveted all-alcohol liquor license, and is only able to serve a limited number of alcoholic beverages.

That could soon change if the city advances a plan pitched by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra last week that calls for asking the state Legislature to approve a special act granting the city seven above-quota all-alcohol liquor licenses, on top of the 32 already allowed in the city.

The number of liquor licenses a municipality may have is based on a formula tied to population, and Northampton has been at its quota for years. The city cannot issue any additional licenses without permission from the Legislature. Sciarra has been in touch with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, who has agreed to file the legislation if asked.

In addition to adding to the number of all-alcohol liquor licenses, Sciarra is also asking the council to once again allow certain areas of city property, such as downtown parking spaces, to be converted into outdoor dining areas.

Taken together, the requests are designed to strengthen the recovery of the city’s downtown dining and restaurant businesses.

“I hope we recognize that the more people we bring downtown, the more businesses we have, the better it benefits everybody,” Sciarra said. “We have a lot of venues that haven’t reopened. So we feel it’s critical we do everything we can to try and bring more business downtown.”

All-alcohol licenses

 At last Thursday’s council meeting, Sciarra stressed the need for additional liquor licenses to help the city’s economic development.

“We are struggling to bring in new restaurants because they can’t get a license,” she said.

Currently, there are 32 all-alcohol restaurant licenses in the city, 13 malt and wine licenses, and 17 package store licenses, according to the mayor.

As it stands now, the only way for a business to obtain an all-alcohol license is through a lottery system. The last such lottery took place in January, when Paul and Elizabeth’s, a pescatarian restaurant in Thornes Marketplace on Main Street, secured a license that had previously been issued to Sylvester’s Restaurant, which closed last spring.

Paul and Elizabeth’s was one of four applicants in the running for the licenses, along with The Dirty Truth, Jake’s Restaurant and Teapot.

“It’s been a difficult process where the best way is to pick it out of a hat,” said Anderson of The Dirty Truth. “It’s a fair process, but I think our track record of 16 years should also carry some weight.”

Anderson said the bar currently has a malt and wine license, allowing it to serve beer and wine. Because the bar also serves food, it is also able to serve certain cordials and liqueurs, such as amaro and gin. But with an all-alcohol license, Anderson said, he would be able to bring a full cocktail experience to his establishment.

Alan Wolf, the mayor’s chief of staff, says that the three restaurants at last month’s lottery would likely be among the first considered if the city is granted seven new licenses. The other licenses would be awarded to qualifying businesses.

Sciarra’s request for outdoor dining follows temporary plans that have been used in the last couple of years. She declines to make any permanent changes because there are plans to reconstruct Main Street in two years. The change will allow events such as last year’s Summer on Strong to take place once again this year.

“One of the few benefits of the pandemic has been a reimagining of our public spaces and what we can do with them,” City Councilor Garrick Perry, who also serves as a manager of the music venue Bishop’s Lounge, said. “There was a lot of talk from neighboring communities about how beautiful Summer on Strong was, so this is a great move in the right direction.”

The council voted to move the license order to Committee on Community Resources for consideration, and will vote on passing the order when it appears next on the agenda. The order for outdoor dining will be voted on at the next council meeting held on Feb. 16.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at

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