Kriola license bid debated at raucous session; owners say survival is at issue

A meeting advertised by the city as an occasion for abutters to talk about the application for a beer and wine license for the Kriola Bar and Restaurant at 33 Hancock St. erupted into a contentious back-and-forth discussion involving more than neighbors last Thursday at the Cape Verdean Adult Day Health Center.

At the core of the dispute is the restaurant site, which has a long history of disruption in the neighborhood, including a double homicide in 2009.

The neighbors say they have been deliberately misled by the owners of Kriola, citing inconsistent communication with abutters, personal attacks on those who oppose them, and failure to follow through with exterior improvements. And a one-time license granted for a party out of the restaurant last week included loud music until the early hours of Sunday morning, with those leaving the restaurant remaining noisily congregated outside, according to neighbors.

Gabriel Livramento, one of Kriola’s owners, said although he respected the position of the opposition “because there were things that happened there,” it was unfair to saddle them with the burden of substandard past owners.

“We’re losing money as we speak,” he added. “If we stay this way, we’re not going to be in business much further.”

The owners say their struggling restaurant will not be able sustain itself without, at minimum, a reduced-cost beer and wine license.

“The bottom line is, we’ve been told lots of things about this place,” said Hancock Street Civic Association president and Kriola abutter Marti Glynn, “but what we see is very different from what we’ve been told. And that’s why I really have to oppose this. I don’t want this on the corner of my street.”

Kriola is applying for one of five available beer and wine licenses available for underserved neighborhoods through the city. The reduced-cost licenses just became available and are going through the standard licensing process.

Abutters meetings, which are designed to solicit feedback from those in physical proximity to an applicant, generally top out at a dozen people in a small neighborhood. Around 100 people packed the Adult Day Health Center across from Kriola last Thursday evening.  According to the sign-in sheet, just over 30 attendees qualified as abutters within the city-designated 300-foot radius.

Most of those who spoke in opposition lived within 300 feet of the Kriola site, and all of them live in the immediate Uphams Corner neighborhood. Those who supported the license included residents of Uphams Corner, Bowdoin-Geneva, Adams Village, and Meetinghouse Hill.

Strong opinions rose from both sides, with Hancock Street resident Ivy Smith saying that in her 40 years in the neighborhood having a restaurant with a bar in that spot has led to misery for those nearby.

“It’s a disgrace,” she said. “It interrupts quality of life.”

Stan Jones, another abutter, concurred.

Consistently, Jones said, “My quiet enjoyment was disturbed.” Over the years, they have watched restaurants at the corner slowly become hotbeds of noise and disruption.

“It didn’t happen all of a sudden,” he said, “but something’s going to happen because of the environment.”

Proponents of Kriola assert that the Cape Verdean community is entitled to potential neighborhood hubs like Kriola. “The community here, and I don’t know the percentages, but it’s vastly Cape Verdean, right?” said Antonio Leite of Geneva Avenue. “They want it. I want it. For restaurants, I don’t want to have to go to downtown Boston just to socialize with, like somebody said, our families, our parents, our children."

“I don’t care if I have a liquor license or not,” Liete added, “but the place can only be lively if it has at least a beer or wine license.” He said the licensing was matter of progress, inevitable.

A group of abutters, the 33 Hancock Street Task Force, has been vehemently opposed to any licenses since Kriola attempted to acquire an all-alcoholic license after telling abutters last April that they would be open to just a beer and wine permit.

In the face of sustained civic pushback, Kriola’s owners rescinded that application and are now pursuing one for beer and wine only.

The task force has gathered over 100 signatures from nearby residents who oppose Kriola being awarded any kind of alcoholic license.

The meeting was spirited and often hostile, with one young woman who lives on Hancock Street shouted down as she tried to explain her objections in both English and Creole. A member of the audience yelled that her father was a drunk, to laughter from many in attendance.

Although racial undertones have simmered during earlier community discussions regarding the restaurant, they became overt in several instances during the meeting.

A translator at the meeting sporadically translated some speeches in Cape Verdean Creole to English from those who opposed the licenses, but did not translate statements from English into Creole.

As translated, one Payson Avenue resident singled out Glynn, alleging that she has opposed the restaurants at that site since it was occupied by Ka-Carlos. “This is a case of pure discrimination against the Cape Verdean community,” the translator said the man said. “The people that will frequent the restaurant are respectable people.”

When an African-American abutter was speaking in opposition, someone shouted “Uncle Tom.” Another speaker said that if the restaurant team were not Cape Verdean, they would have been awarded the license already.

Bowdoin-Geneva resident and University of Massachusetts Boston professor Tony Van der Meer said at the meeting that the Cape Verdeans were being told that it was unacceptable for them to have a place where they could socialize, at one point saying “We’ve had black people in slavery who have turned against other black people. It’s nothing new. We shouldn’t even be having this meeting today,” he said. “Just give them the license.”

Afterward, neighbors complained that their voices were being drowned out by those of people from outside the abutters’ range, particularly taking issue with the tone allowed throughout the meeting by the city’s neighborhood liaison, Flavio Daveiga, who moderated the meeting and struggled at times to keep order.

On Monday, Jerome Smith, the city’s chief of civic engagement and director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, said in a statement that his office “facilitates space for open and respectful community discussion on all development and licensing projects. Our office weighs fact-based information from neighborhood associations, abutters, and residents at large together to formulate the position of ONS,” he added. “This same process will be applied to 33 Hancock St. and we encourage all concerned parties to communicate their positions to our office.”

Charlie Tevnan, a Dorchester lawyer who represents the Kriola team, said a licensing board hearing had not yet been scheduled. They anticipate a date in October.

For his part, Daveiga concluded: “That was an entertaining, lively meeting.”