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Long wait nearly over to toast Lincoln's liquor law

New eatery expected to apply for first license

Harold McAleer says he looks forward to having a beer while dining out in his town.
Harold McAleer says he looks forward to having a beer while dining out in his town. (Globe Staff Photo / Bill Polo)

When the only shopping center in town is renovated next year, residents of Lincoln stand to gain more than a larger grocery store and a new post office.

They may get to order a glass of beer or wine while dining out in their own community.

The longtime dry town is in line to see its first drinking establishment as early as next summer, thanks to a vote at Town Meeting in March 2006, when residents authorized officials to seek a beer and wine license for a new restaurant being built as part of Lincoln Station's expansion.

For Harold McAleer, who has lived for 27 years in a town where he can't order a beer with dinner, it can't come soon enough.

"I would love it," McAleer said. "You go to a restaurant and you can't have a drink. That's awful. I have to drive to the next town, for God's sake."

Lincoln was removed from the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission's list of dry towns after the Town Meeting vote, which was followed by a November 2006 OK by the Legislature and a ballot approval by Lincoln residents in March.

The number of dry towns statewide has been shrinking in recent years, with only 12 still on the list - down from 17 in 2004. Three of the remaining 12 are considering allowing liquor licenses, according to the commission.

Though residents say good package stores and restaurants where they can order a bottle of Chardonnay are a stone's throw away in Wayland, Waltham, and Concord, they'd like to be able to grab dinner and a drink in their own town.

Geoff McGean, executive director of Rural Land Foundation, the owner and developer of Lincoln Station, said Lincoln needs a place where adults can gather to socialize at night.

"What comes to a mind is people like to gather around food, and some of us also like to gather around drink," McGean said. "The mall having more of a nighttime place will enable people to run into each other more, not just to run off to other towns to eat and drink."

Residents frequently reminisce about a former restaurant, Lincoln Crossing, which operated in town years ago. The restaurant employed a bring-your-own wine policy and charged a corking fee.

They seem to agree that, in this day and age, having a beer and wine license is essential to a restaurant's survival. But that doesn't mean everyone is wild about the idea of ushering in the change.

Rick Wiggin, who grew up in Wellesley when it was a dry town, said he could live without it. "I'm not a particular drinker and I don't have any particular need to have a liquor license in town," he said.

But, he acknowledged, "I also know for a restaurant to survive in town, it really does need a liquor license."

Still, he'd rather the town didn't offer beer and wine licenses, in part because he thinks that brings "an element of distinction to the town."

"I sort of hate to see that be given up," Wiggin said.

The Board of Selectmen, which serves as the town's liquor licensing authority, is now in the process of writing the rules and regulations for the license. Although it was proposed for Lincoln Station's new restaurant, any business that qualifies could apply for it.

The Lincoln Station developer can apply for a permit when an agreement is reached with a restaurant operator. McGean said no restaurant has been selected for the project, which broke ground last month. He said he is in talks with the Boston Restaurant Group Inc., a broker that is looking for a possible tenant, and with a couple of local people who are interested in opening a restaurant.

Since the $7 million mall expansion and renovation broke ground, trees have been cut down to make room for the new buildings, entrances to the existing businesses are being relocated, and parking is being reconfigured. McGean said he hopes the contractor will be pouring concrete for the post office and restaurant, which will face Lincoln Road, next month.

The Rural Land Foundation, which seeks to preserve land in town, helped to develop the mall in the 1970s by purchasing the site and then turning it over to a developer. In the 1980s, the foundation bought the development back and has used proceeds to fund the protection and conservation of land in Lincoln.

McAleer, who likes to enjoy a beer with dinner, said he's not sure how often he would eat in the new restaurant. But he said it would be nice to be able to take visiting friends there.

He said residents don't need to worry about a restaurant with a beer and wine license changing the landscape of the leafy suburb.

"It'll be a quiet, senior-oriented type place," he said, "because the whole town is that way."

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