TD Garden’s Restrictive Alcohol Policy Remains Terrible for Twenty-Somethings

TD Garden’s strict rules attempting to stop fake IDs also makes it difficult for those of legal age to buy beer. –Rob Carr/AP

Last Friday night I went to TD Garden to see my first Celtics game. The Celtics lost; whatever. It was largely a nice night with a bunch of friends.

I say largely because there was one clear problem: Vendors wouldn’t let me buy a beer.

Why? Well, I’m a 23-year-old recent transplant to Boston and don’t have a Massachusetts driver’s license.

That hasn’t been an issue in any way so far in my time here. Bouncers at bars or clubs in the area have sometimes given my identification an extra glance, but not having a state ID has never kept me out of a bar or restricted my ability to order a few among friends.

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At least until Friday night. Shortly before halftime, I went to a vendor in the upper deck to buy a beer. They asked for ID, and I showed them. Then they sent me back to my seat empty-handed.

As regular visitors to TD Garden may know, the stadium is infamous for its startlingly strict rules against selling alcohol to out-of-state residents. The stadium’s website lists the policy in bold as a warning to all:

Out of state licenses are acceptable only if the patron is at least 25 years of age and another form of identification (e.g., credit card) will be required if the patron is between 25 and 30 years of age.’’

21-year-olds with Massachusetts driver’s licenses can drink. But 21-to-24 year-olds from other states are SOL, while even 30-year-olds (30!) from out of state need two forms of ID to get the opportunity to pay $8 for a Budweiser. True, twenty-something out-of-staters can use a US passport to get beer, but who just so happens to carry their passport with them on a trip to see the Celtics or Bruins?

It’s not just TD Garden; the Xfinity Center in Mansfield has the same alcohol policy. Food and beverage at both places are operated by Sportservice, a concessionaire owned by Delaware North. (Delaware North owns and operates TD Garden. Live Nation owns the Xfinity Center.)

The age restrictions appear to be solely for arenas with concessions operated by Delaware North’s Sportservice in Massachusetts. The Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, RI simply asks for an over-21 ID. The same goes for Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and Nationwide Arena in Ohio, both with concessions operated by Sportservice.

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The alcohol age and ID requirements in Massachusetts are “corporate policy’’ and have been around a “long time,’’ said Victoria Hong, the director of corporate communications at Delaware North.

The rules date at least to the old Boston Garden (pre-1995), according to Tricia McCorkle, director of communications for TD Garden.

“Sportservice has continued to enforce [the rules] based on our commitment of ensuring there is no sale or delivery of alcohol to underage guests at our arena,’’ she said in an email. “This policy helps minimize the difficulty in deciphering fraudulent forms of identification.’’

When I told Hong about getting turned away for alcohol, she asked if I had shown the vendor a second form of ID. I told her that showing two forms of ID only applied to out of staters age 25-to-30, and that people aged 21-to-24 with an out of state license were not allowed to be served no matter how many forms of ID they showed.

To their credit, TD Garden doesn’t try to hide these rules — they’re literally written in bold on its website, and are well-known. Thrillist described them as “draconian’’ in a piece last year. “Basically, if you are not from the Bay State, you do not exist,’’ they wrote. A sizable number of reviews on TD Garden’s TripAdvisor and Yelp pages warn about these rules.

The rules, while intending to limit underage people using fake IDs, are in need of change in light of Boston’s rise as a destination for young people. As The Boston Globe recently noted, more than a third (35 percent) of Boston’s population is between 20 and 34 years old. These young people aren’t just obnoxious, entitled students, as the stereotype often goes; they make up about half of Boston’s workforce, the highest percentage of any major US metropolitan city.

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You get the point: Young people make Boston go. Yet many of them can’t enjoy a beer at TD Garden.

In any case, my Friday night worked out fine in the end. I simply asked a friend from Massachusetts to buy me a beer.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story said Xfinity Center in Mansfield was owned by Delaware North. Xfinity Center’s concessions are run by Delaware North’s Sportservice, but the location is owned by Live Nation.

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