The Zoning Board of Appeal today approved plans by the Playwright, 658 East Broadway, to expand its capacity and add residential units on floors above it - but board members said they are concerned by complaints from nearby residents about boisterious, often angry customers, especially at closing time.
The Playwright plans to double its floor size and expand its capacity from 175 to 275 people, in part by demolishing an adjoining building at 654 East Broadway, and to add a total of five new residential units to the three that already exist.
Although some South Boston residents praised the bar and its owners for their contributions to South Boston groups, people who live directly near the bar recited horror stories of fights and public urination at closing time and at the noise during operating hours.
Co-owner Joey Arcari and his attorney, John Pulgini said some of the changes the expansion would bring would address many of the issues: Windows would be closed more frequently, a new vestibule would reduce the "blast" of noise that now emerges whenever somebody enters or leave and the band area, now in the front of the bar, would be moved to the rear. Pulgini added that doubling the floor space, but not capacity, would also help to dilute noise issues.
The board voted 6-1 to approve the expansion - but with the caveat that BPDA designers work closely with the bar to ensure it really does minimize issues for neighbors.
Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo said it was nice people across South Boston supported the bar, but said she was particularly concerned about the direct neighbors. "It's the direct abutters who have a great deal to lose in their quality of life," she said. "The goal has to be that they are comfortable living in their own space and neighborhood."
Board members Edward Devau and Mark Erlich agreed. "It's a quality of life issue," Devau said. "The issue of accommodating concerns of operating a noisy, loud business in the middle of a residential neighborhood are primary," Erlich said. "I think you need to go above and beyond."
Board member Mark Fortune suggested the Playwright hire a police detail to keep the knuckleheads under control. As a West Roxbury resident, he compared the Playwright to his neighborhood's Corrib Pub - although he acknowledged the Corrib does not have live music.
"We will be keeping an eye out," Araujo said.