Hancock Street community pushes back on Kriola license

The newly-opened Kriola restaurant on Hancock Street. Jennifer Smith photo

Tensions continue between the owners of the Kriola Bar and Restaurant at 33 Hancock Street and nearby community members. The restaurant has been open for three weeks in the wake of sustained pushback from abutters and civic leaders since its introduction to the neighborhood in April.

At the heart of the conflict is the extent of the restaurant’s plans to operate a full bar at the site. From the first abutters’ meeting, neighbors have cited the building’s troubled history and asked for assurances that the property would not continue to be a source of stress in the neighborhood.

In a letter submitted to the Reporter by the 33 Hancock Street Task Force, made up of abutters, the group said the restaurant’s immediate efforts to secure a full liquor license posed the risk of a return to the building’s troubled past.

“Whether it was called the Hancock Café, the Rendezvous Lounge, or Ka-Carlos, the site has been a source of violence and disruption for this neighborhood, the result of a string of broken promises that ended tragically with the murder of two people in 2009,” the letter said.

The task force is opposed to a restaurant at that site, but as that goal is no longer achievable, members have focused on preventing the approval of a liquor license for the establishment, which has has been pitched as a family-friendly spot, serving Cape Verdean food and hosting wine tasting nights. Those at their prominent bar, the first space visible upon entering the blue-walled restaurant, would not be allowed to disturb dining patrons, owners said.

Gabriel Livramento, part of the five-person management team for the Dorchester-based Capital Green Corporation, said in an email to civic association leaders that the restaurant would serve only wine and beer for a “probationary” year.

In initial meetings with the community, the owners said they were willing to limit alcohol only to beer and wine service. But the 25 remaining full service liquor licenses available to neighborhood restaurants through the city at a reduced price are too attractive an option to pass up, Livramento said.

“If we squander the opportunity to get a full liquor license this time,” he said, “by the time we have to do it on the full market, it could be $250,000 to $300,000.”

The plan as laid out to civic leaders via email is to operate as a restaurant until applying for a license in the fall. If awarded a full license, Livramento said, they will stick to beer and wine for a year, before returning to neighborhood groups to ask their blessing to use their a full-service permit.

He assumes the owners will receive approval, as gradual expansion of service is a natural business growth model. “No one in the right kind of mind would deny this,” he said.

Civic members disagree with that assessment.

When the Capital Green Corporation went before the Jones Hill group, “they were not at that point looking for a full license,” said Bridget Curd, president of the Jones Hill civic group. But after a presentation by the 33 Hancock Street Task Force in June, Curd said, the Jones Hill group voted unanimously to block either a full liquor license or a beer and wine license. The topic will go before the Hancock Street group at their next meeting on July 21.

Occupying the property and running 33 Hancock St. as a restaurant did not require a community process, as it has had long been in use as a restaurant, according to the city’s Inspectional Services Department.

William Christopher, Inspectional Services Department commissioner for Boston, said that the zoning seemed in line with what is permissible for the site. Though the land is zoned as a residential three-family, the building itself is considered a continuation of “nonconforming” status. As the site was a former restaurant, inspectional services and the zoning board consider that to be an appropriate use of the property, regardless of change of ownership.

However, the normal public process will kick off as usual when Kriola’s owners apply for the liquor license, a move that will require participation in the community process, including meeting with the Hancock Street Civic Association and the Jones Hill Neighborhood Association.

The civic groups then decide whether or not to support the request, though their preferences are balanced along with other community testimony, the owners’ case, and input from the city when the decision goes to the licensing board at a public hearing.

City officials have not yet taken a public position on the restaurant.

Amy Frigulietti, chief of staff for City Councillor Frank Baker, said they “did not give any support” either way on the liquor license. Civic groups “should be involved just like they should for any restaurant,” she said.

Noting that it is generally good business practice to loop the community in even when their support is not required, she said the councillor’s office will take a closer look when the license is sought.  
“Any kind of licenses… that won’t just happen. It will be vetted,” she said.

Audrey Coulter, a spokesperson for Mayor Martin Walsh’s office, said in an email Tuesday: “Neighborhood liaisons will continue to work with the community to ensure all public input is included in the community process.”

In speaking multiple times to the Reporter, co-manager Livramento singled out 33 Hancock Street Task Force member Marti Glynn, who lives five houses from the site and was recently elected president of the Hancock Street Civic Association, claiming she is trying to sabotage the restaurant. “She has no relation to the community,” Livramento said of the 35-year resident, calling her at one point a “dictator” who does not represent the neighborhood.

Glynn, in an email, said “I don’t claim to ‘represent the neighborhood’ – this isn’t about me. The people who live in this neighborhood are quite capable of expressing their opinions. All I have done is provide a place where they can do that – and they have. More than 100 people signed a petition opposing CGC’s plans. I am only one of them.”

Jones Hill’s Curd said she was staying neutral on the proposal for the moment, but added that the building’s history still worries long-time residents. “It’s got a violent past,” she said. “It just, it gives everybody the chills. Some places are haunted.”