A new retail tenant for 88 Wharf

Tuscan-themed Madre restaurant will be located in this building, known as 88 Wharf.

(Photo by Elaine Cushman Carroll)

Select Board reviews town’s liquor license policy

About 15 years ago, if Milton residents wanted a night out with fine dining and a cocktail, the solution was simple. They went to another community.

Since then, Milton has made the transition to a nighttime dinner destination as several restaurants moved to town or expanded their business.

Those dining options are about to get a little broader, and that possibility stirred up a debate at a recent Select Board meeting about whether Milton restaurants have proven to the town that they can handle their liquor.

In the end, the Select Board on Nov. 4 approved a common victualler’s license and the transfer of a liquor license to Madre Osteria, the new Tuscan restaurant set to open in the vacant restaurant space at the 88 Wharf Condominium building.

All members of the Select Board showed support for Madre and noted the good fortune that experienced restaurateurs — one of them from Milton — wanted to open a restaurant in town in these days of COVID-19 uncertainty.

The liquor license also touched off a discussion about what amount of regulation is needed to reach a balance between protecting residential neighbors and giving restaurants enough freedom to survive.

Voicing support for easing restrictions on restaurants, Select Board member Richard Wells said, “We’ve learned enough. We know how to do it.”

Alcohol service at restaurants in Milton has been strictly regulated in their permitting processes, with many residents concerned about late-night noise, parking, and the fear that restaurants might be too much like barrooms.

The 88 Wharf St. license hearing included two potentially touchy requests: one to have more seats at the bar, and another to allow a greater percentage of the restaurant’s sales to be from alcoholic beverages.

Milton is in a “very small minority” of communities, including Natick and Needham, that set a percentage limit on alcohol sales, according to David DeLuca, who serves as town counsel for this matter.

DeLuca said the town’s goal in imposing a percentage was to avoid having “alcohol-centric” venues, but the service of expensive wines and craft cocktails could tend to “tilt the scale a little bit.”

He said that there is no clear legal reason to stick with a particular percentage, but the town should be consistent with all of its restaurants.

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