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Study Here! But Eat Somewhere Else

No underage drinking, ok. But some area restaurants ban people under 21 from dining. Are you kidding me, Boston?


(Illustration by Koren Shadmi)

Two days before turning 21, I went out to dinner in Cambridge with a group of friends, all of whom were at least 22. At 8 p.m., after checking the menu outside the Cantab Lounge, we walked in. On my way to the hostess stand, a tall, frowning man blocked my path. "Can I see your ID?"

At two bar-and-grill-type places, I was twice more denied access to the dining room because I was younger than 21. "But, I just want to eat your food, at a table," I begged.

Unfortunately, I wasn't surprised. Several months before my birthday, I had tried to get my favorite sandwich at the Back Bay's Parish Cafe at 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday. I was rejected at the door. Why, I wondered, are area restaurants alienating the 18- to-20 crowd? You know, that huge demographic of college students in a city stacked with universities? Is there a new killjoy law prohibiting anyone under 21 from participating in urban nightlife? As a 20-year-old, I couldn't dance at most clubs or sing along at many music venues. Now I wasn't allowed to eat, either?

According to Daniel Pokaski, chairman of the Boston Licensing Board, all restaurants that serve a full menu must be open to anyone, regardless of age. If they aren't, it is considered discrimination. Pokaski says he's received several complaints of this nature, mostly from parents whose children were prohibited from eating with them at certain restaurants. "When that happens," he says, "we contact the restaurant and let them know what the rules are."

But I wondered if other cities followed the same exclusionary trend as Boston. After being shunned from Dick's Last Resort at Faneuil Hall at 9 p.m. on a Friday, I called up the chain's sister establishments in Chicago and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, among others. I could have eaten at all of them, at any time. Granted, the San Antonio Dick's was a bit more strict: "At night on the weekends, we'd have to draw an X on your hand at the door." But could I still get in to eat? Sure.

During a recent Saturday night in New York City, I happily hopped from restaurant to comedy club to lounge to rap battle. Patrons who wanted a drink were carded at the bar or table. I encountered the same scenario at Philadelphia establishments while interning there last year. But in Boston, just getting past the door was hit-or-miss. Worse, places with fickle age restrictions do not advertise 21-plus hours on their websites. After taking long T rides to restaurants, only to be denied at the door, I began calling ahead and asking if I needed to be of legal drinking age. The responses to my question were amusingly varied. One hostess laughed and said, "Only if you want to drink, silly!"

On Improv Asylum's website, a message reads, "Did you know that you do not need to be 21 to enjoy our shows?" What an astounding concept: Underage folk can be humored without a breach of legality. The fact that a comedy club feels it has to advertise this is sadly indicative of how Boston nightlife has devolved.

Boston prides itself on being the most college-friendly city in the country - but is it really? Every September, hordes of freshmen from Boston University swarm the streets of Allston in search of parties, angering neighborhood residents who complain about excessive noise and rowdy behavior. But if 18-year-olds can neither convene in their tiny dorm rooms nor take part in an ever-expanding 21-plus environment, then where are they supposed to go? Sure, school-sponsored activities exist, but should they be the only option? Contrary to what the tour guides at BU say, Boston is not the students' campus come Friday and Saturday nights.

Of course, not all of Boston and Cambridge discriminate against youth. Kudos to places like the Sunset Grill & Tap in Allston for allowing me to accompany older friends during my formative years. Same goes for T.T. the Bear's Place in Central Square for drawing bold, black X's on both my hands - and then letting me in to enjoy the show. After all, the freedom to socialize while nursing a Coke is far better than not being able to socialize at all.

Jennifer Schwartz is a freelance writer and a senior at Boston University. E-mail her at jensch72@gmail.com.

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