State ruling bottles up liquor license for Iron Horse revival in Northampton

The owners of The Parlor Room, which recently bought The Iron Horse Music Hall on Center Street in Northampton, learned this week that the state will not allow a liquor license for the venue without a tax-related certificate of good standing from its previous owner, Eric Suher.

The owners of The Parlor Room, which recently bought The Iron Horse Music Hall on Center Street in Northampton, learned this week that the state will not allow a liquor license for the venue without a tax-related certificate of good standing from its previous owner, Eric Suher. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 02-22-2024 4:14 PM

Modified: 02-23-2024 6:30 PM


NORTHAMPTON — Almost two months before the Iron Horse Music Hall’s scheduled opening date, its new owners received some bad news that could prove to be a major setback.

At Wednesday’s city License Commission meeting, chair Natasha Yakovlev and the city’s licensing and economic development coordinator Annie Lesko announced that the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) had informed the city that the Parlor Room, the new owner of the Iron Horse, cannot be granted a liquor license for the venue without a certificate of good standing from its previous owner, Eric Suher, meaning the nightclub still cannot serve alcoholic beverages.

The License Commission revoked that license from Suher at its January meeting, effectively canceling it, after he repeatedly failed to produce the certificate, which comes from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and serves as proof that the owner has paid state taxes. The certificate is required to transfer a liquor license from one owner to another.

At the same meeting, the commission granted The Parlor Room one of several special legislation-approved licenses the city received last year to use for the scheduled May 1 Iron Horse opening as a workaround. But at the commission meeting on Wednesday, Lesko said the ABCC had called her and said that because the Parlor Room had entered into an official agreement with Suher to purchase the Iron Horse from him, including an alcohol license, the certificate was still necessary, even with the commission’s granting of a different license.

“This is bad,” Lesko said. “We’re in the same situation prior to canceling the license.”

Members of the License Commission reacted with similar feelings of consternation.

“It’s pretty awful news and really just distressing,” Yakovlev said. “The investment that the entire team has made in moving this forward, I don’t even have a word for it. To say that this is a disappointment for them is a massive understatement.”

Helen Kahn, another member of the commission, criticized Suher for being unable to produce the certificate for the Iron Horse.

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“What is it going to take?” Kahn said. “I don’t know if this is about paying taxes; I don’t know if it’s really about filing paperwork. But all of Northampton would like this to be resolved, and the areas beyond, and all the restaurants who are awaiting liquor licenses.”

Suher, who attended the virtual meeting, did not respond to Kahn. Earlier in the meeting, Suher mentioned that it would also be “quite some time” for him to acquire a certificate of good standing for the Calvin Theater, another Suher property set to be acquired by The Bowery Presents, a music venue operator from New York City.

Chris Freeman, the executive director of the Parlor Room, said in an interview that the nonprofit planned to make a legal argument to the ABCC challenging the ruling, expressing confidence that the issue could be resolved before the planned May 1 opening.

“We’re working through different channels to try and figure it out,” Freeman said. “The ABCC is never the easiest to work with, but they’re doing their part to ensure that we have an unencumbered license.”

With the status of the Iron Horse liquor license in limbo, the commission has two other all-alcohol licenses it would like to grant.

Another license that previously belonged to Suher had been scheduled to be transferred to John Piskor, the owner of the Gombo restaurant. However, Suher also could not produce a certificate of good standing for that license, which the city also canceled.

The commission last month declined to give one of its two remaining licenses to Gombo, saying that the business took a risk by entering into negotiations with Suher for the license. Other interested restaurants should have a chance at obtaining one, members reasoned.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the commission decided to hold onto one of the two remaining licenses in case it needed to be granted to the Calvin Theater, while the other one would be distributed via a lottery to another Northampton business.

The cap on the number of liquor licenses a municipality may allot is determined by the state, although in recent years there has been an effort to give cities and towns more control over how many they may issue.

In January, Gov. Maura Healey announced she would be filing a bill that would give municipalities more power over meals and lodging taxes and would also include allowing more control over distribution of liquor licenses. But the final version of the bill did not include language for municipalities setting their own quota for the licenses.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.