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Craft Beer Guild & Five Local Bars Accused of Violating 'Pay-to-Play' Laws

Seaport bars Jerry Remy's and Gather; Game On Fenway, Coogan's downtown, and the late Estelle's in the South End were named.

Estelle's
Estelle's
Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater Boston

It's illegal for a restaurant to accept money to dedicate its draft lines to certain beer brands, but local regulators accused one distributor and five local restaurants of doing just that this week.

The state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission alleges that Craft Beer Guild, LLC violated so-called "pay-to-play" laws by routinely paying five Boston-area bars to reserve "dedicated" draft lines for their clients, the Boston Globe reported. The establishments cited during a hearing on Wednesday are:

  • Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grill, in the Seaport, owned by Cronin Group
  • Estelle’s, a South End bar owned by Wilcox Group (which rebranded as Cluckit! earlier this year; Cluckit! is not named in the Globe article)
  • Gather, in the Seaport, owned by Briar Group
  • Game On, near Fenway Park owned by Lyons Group
  • Coogan’s, in the Financial District and owned by Glynn Hospitality Group

Each bar received $1,000 or $2,000 for each reserved line, and the payments reached tens of thousands of dollars a year at some places, according to the Globe. Such payments have been unlawful since the end of Prohibition, as it can limit consumer choice and create an uneven playing field for beer companies, stifling competition from smaller brands.

J. Mark Dickison, a lawyer for Craft Beer Guild, said the practice is widespread in the industry, but admitted his client participated. "This conduct is not something . . . that we’re proud of," he told the commission.

The Globe article details how the companies appear to have disguised this practice, and it says Craft Beer Guild’s general manager, Michael Bernfield, admitted he knew it violated ABCC regulations, according to the commission.

Rulings are forthcoming, but the Globe says punishments could include fines, a license suspension, or even a state license revocation. The accused companies are scheduled for a hearing on November 3. Four companies declined to comment to the Globe, and the Wilcox Group did not respond to the paper's request for comment.

The ABCC's investigation stemmed from accusations made on Twitter last fall by Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project owner Dann Paquette.

Coogan's Bluff

171 Milk St, Boston, MA 02109 (617) 451-7415 Visit Website

Jerry Remy's Sports Bar & Grill

1265 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02215 (617) 236-7369 Visit Website

Gather

75 Northern Avenue, , MA 02210 (617) 982-7220 Visit Website

Estelle's

782 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02118 857-250-2999 Visit Website

Game On!

82 Lansdowne St, Boston, MA 02215 (617) 351-7001 Visit Website

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