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South End gay bar Cathedral Station could become pot shop

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Since its opening in the South End in 2014, Cathedral Station, a gay-oriented sports bar and pub, has provided a space for the LGBTQ community residents to gather, socialize and share important information.

Now, the beloved and welcoming establishment on Washington Street has become the center of debate as it’s set to close and a proposed retail recreational cannabis dispensary looks to open space there.

The request is catching hot smoke by neighborhood residents who say the dispensary should be located elsewhere. The proposed site is located across the street from Peter’s Park and in close proximity to Cathedral High School and homeless shelters Pine Street Inn and Rosie’s Place.

“It’s not helpful for young, single parents trying to raise their kids,” said Ken Smith, a member of the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association, “and ‘Oh yeah, there’s our local pot shop right there on Washington Street across the street from the park where we take you, kids, to play.’”

Dorchester resident Nike John, the majority interest holder behind the proposal, looks to continue the success she’s seen at her Heritage Club cannabis establishment in Charlestown by opening the South End hot spot.

John became Boston’s first Black female cannabis dispensary owner when she opened the Charlestown location last September after a nearly two-year approval process.

While it could take 9 to 14 months for there to be a final say on the South End location, John said it’s important to listen to residents express concerns and to find ways to mitigate those worries.

Virtual meetings have been held at the neighborhood and city level this month, where the proposed applicant, 1220 Washington St., Inc., presented the proposed dispensary and heard from residents.

“We are trying to distinguish between what’s a stigma against cannabis and what’s actually a concern for kids’ safety,” John told the Herald on Saturday. “When I am hearing people talk about ‘Oh, well we can’t have kids see any of this.’ Some of that, to me, sounds like political stigma as opposed to ‘I’m afraid of my kids stepping on a needle in the park.’ That needs to be addressed immediately.”

The proposal and Cathedral Station’s pending closure have brought a great deal of confusion to the community as to whether the requested cannabis dispensary is the reason why the gay sports bar and pub will be shutting its doors.

The short answer is no, they’re not related.

When the restaurant opened in 2014, ownership had a five-year lease with landlord Arthur Leon before the lease was extended a year to 2020. Amid COVID-19 hardships and a desire to retire, the owners in May 2020 opted for a month-to-month lease, co-owner Bill Svetz told the Herald on Saturday.

An initial letter of intent between the applicant and Leon was reached in May 2022 before the creation of 1220 Washington St., Inc. That letter of intent expired and was replaced by an option to lease in October 2022, according to a letter of intent obtained by the Herald.

Svetz did not say when Cathedral Station plans to close for good.

“We are going to be around for a while,” he said. “I can’t tell you when (we’ll be closing). I could drop dead tomorrow.”

Leon said he and the restaurant owners are in good standing and that he’s communicated with them about the proposed cannabis dispensary. The restaurant received interest from three potential tenants, all of them expressing interest in opening a pot shop, he said.

“If they wanted to stay, I would have given them a (long-term) lease,” Leon said of Cathedral Station.

South End resident Rob McDevitt lives a block-and-half behind Cathedral Station and frequents the restaurant often. An organization he is a part of, Boston Alliance of Gay Sports, often hosts events there, including a sock drive on Friday.

“As a middle-aged gay white male, I want to look at safety and walking the streets I wouldn’t feel safe,” McDavitt said. “It’s basically having a space I could go to, meet up with friends in my own neighborhood that I would be losing.”

City Council Ed Flynn called Cathedral Station a Boston “treasure” as it has stayed open while other LGBTQ safe spaces close in the community. There are just a handful of gay sports bars and pubs in the city.

“I don’t think people have issues with cannabis per se across Boston,” Flynn said in a Friday phone interview. “The issue is the current site of Cathedral Station and the role it plays in the community.”

For the proposed dispensary to go forward, the Boston Cannabis Board must hold a hearing on the application. If approved, it would proceed to the city Zoning Board of Appeals and the state Cannabis Control Commission, which has “incredibly strict requirements,” said Lesley Delaney Hawkins, a partner with Price Lobel Tye LLP representing the applicant.

Hawkins said the proposed dispensary would be “far less impactful” to the neighborhood since it would be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Cathedral Station closes at midnight and 2 a.m.

“Because there’s so many regulations requiring increased security, increased lighting, it can be a benefit to the community when done right,” Hawkins told the Herald Friday.

John said she wants to open up shop partly because she wants to add more diversity to the South End, which she said has “very few Black-owned businesses.”

“Diversity, to me, is important to keeping the city vibrant.,” she said. “It’s very difficult talking to a community that I think doesn’t see any value in who I am as an operator coming in.”

Smith, of the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association, said he takes exception to that and said he’s disappointed that John is taking a “don’t fight it or you’re racist” stance. He’s encouraging his neighborhood to write letters to City Hall expressing their concerns.

“It’s not about race,’ Smith said. “It’s about not wanting a cannabis dispensary in our tight-woven neighborhood.”

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION:The state has made it legal to smoke pot, but there is still no definitive test for driving under the influence.

Herald file photo

The state made it legal to smoke pot following a 2016 vote. Some residents still don’t like the idea of living near a dispensary, however, as shown by some community members’ response to the possibility of their favorite South End haunt closing its doors to become a pot shop. (Herald file photo)

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