Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Boston boozing, by the numbers

Photo: JOEL VEAK

Late last year, The Daily Beast released one of those wacky made-for-the-Internet lists, ranking the 40 drunkest cities in America. They used statistics like the average number of drinks consumed per person per month, the percentage of the population who are heavy or binge drinkers, and the number of deaths from alcoholic liver disease. Our fair beery burgh of Boston placed a respectable eighth, behind the likes of Austin, Milwaukee, and Reno, all fine shit-faced company. By their math, the average person in Boston throws back 14.38 drinks per month. Amateurs. 

Yet earlier in the year, Men's Health - whose editors must live in a city where bourbon flows from the taps - ranked Boston as the least drunk city in the country. Clearly they've never been to Allston on a Friday night. 

Studies be damned: much of Boston's national rep is based on our boozed-up bona fides, right? Ask people from other states what first comes to mind when they think about Boston, and they'll probably answer, in this order, pricks, drunk pricks, the Red Sox, drunk Red Sox fans, Sam Adams beer, Cheers, and Ben Affleck and Aerosmith doing Irish car bombs on St. Patrick's Day with Paul Revere.

Ask a Bostonian about our city's drinking stature, and the likely response you'll get is, "Fuck you - you're buying this round." Then, after you fist-fight, he or she will probably say, "Well, what part of Boston do you mean?" Are we talking the North Station area after a Celtics game? The South End during brunch? Government Center around happy hour? Or Southie, like, every day? 

So I posed a question to some STUFF readers and my network of friendly scumbags: what's your idea of the booziest neighborhood in the Boston area, in terms of the number of bars and liquor stores as well as the frequency of sidewalk puke and bro fights? Allston seemed to be the consensus winner. "Sidewalk puke has to be Allston, hands down," one responder offered. Bridge-and-tunnel tourist-trap 'hoods were well represented too. "Faneuil Hall is like the place for bro-fight happenings," said one reader. "I'm going with the Faneuil Hall/Canal Street area with Allston a strong second," another said. "Working down there for years, I saw some pukey bro fights for real."

Anecdotally speaking, Allston, with its bevy of college kids, dive bars, and bushes-pissers, seems a natural winner. But hard numbers are a little trickier to nail down. The Boston Police Department declined to speculate on the issue - perhaps because they were too busy breaking up fights in the C-6 police district in Southie, an area singled out by a friendly prosecutor who spoke with me.

The folks at the State Treasury Department, who oversee the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, said they don't compile statistics on the distribution of liquor licenses by neighborhood. But a 2009 report from the Boston Public Health Commission did just that, breaking down the number of liquor licenses per 100,000 people across neighborhoods. The areas with the highest concentrations of licenses were the Back Bay (574), downtown (1263), Fenway (245), and the South End (698). Not much of a surprise. One interesting statistic found that, contrary to what stereotypes seem to indicate, the two areas with the highest median incomes in the city - the Back Bay and downtown - are also the most ripe for boozing. Allston/Brighton, by the way, clocked in with a mere 131 licenses per 100,000 residents, fewer even than Charlestown's 158. Mattapan had a measly 30; Southie, a respectable 287.
But they're all a bunch of lightweights by North End standards. A recent report from the North End / Waterfront Residents' Association claims the restaurant, cobblestone, and stereotype capital of the city is also the drinkingest. 

"The North End / Waterfront has more alcohol licenses than any other Boston neighborhood," the study found. "With a population of about 11,000 residents, the North End has approximately 10 percent of the 1,025 alcohol licenses in the city, despite having only 1.7 percent of the population." There are 109 people per liquor license in the neighborhood, compared with 629 in Boston overall.

Okay, good. That makes me feel a lot better. Tourists from all over the world flock to the North End. You thought it was because of the history - it's really because of all the booze. Represent us well, North End; for now, anyway, it seems our city's drinking reputation is in good hands.

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