ROCKPORT — The Board of Selectmen have liberalized the town's alcohol-consumption rules, which will permit ordering drinks with simple appetizers, and buying beverages without food if a reservation has been made with restaurant managers.

Rockport approved alcohol consumption in restaurants in 2006, after more than a century of being one of the few dry communities in Massachusetts.

But the permission to drink came with a caveat — patrons had to order a meal in order to consume alcohol.

The new regulations, which go into effect immediately, make it possible to have a drink without putting in a big food order. Also, hours that restaurants can serve have been extended.

"If we want more restaurants to settle here and if we want to expand our economy, we must make Rockport more user friendly," said Peter Beacham, chair of the town's economic development committee and a leader of the drive a half-dozen years ago to make the town "wet."

"We studied this situation, and found that in the years we've had alcohol, we have not had one police-related incident," Beacham said.

Modifications to the existing town regulations are as follows:

Definition of a meal: The new guideline, reportedly based on wording used in Newton, says, "The term meal shall include hors d'oeuvres, appetizers, desserts, sandwiches, soups, salads, entrees and prepared foods but shall exclude chips, nuts, pretzels, popcorn and other snack food..."

Beverages while waiting to be seated: Alcoholic beverages may be served in a designated area for those waiting to be seated for dining if a reservation has been made with restaurant personnel.

Hours of sales and service: Hours of alcohol service will be extended to 11:30 p.m., and removal of beverages can take place at midnight. End of service had been at 10:30 and removal at 11 p.m.

Wine doggy bags: The new regulations, which follow state guidelines, will permit diners to leave with a partially consumed bottle of wine that has been purchased with a meal.

The new guideline states, "The bottle that is removed must be placed in a one-time use, tamper-proof transparent bag with the meal receipt attached to the sealed bag."

Peter Webber, who heads the Rockport division of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, said the new regulations are "a step toward normalizing local rules regarding alcohol consumption."

"Our restaurants still get complaints from visitors about our alcohol policies," he added, "but I think this will permit them more options in how they can serve their customers."

Sources said that among those helping to draft new regulations included Bruce Coates, of the Emerson Inn by the Sea, Charlie Brackett of Brackett's Oceanview Restaurant and some board members of the Shalin Liu Performance Center.

Sarah Wilkinson, chair of the selectmen, was not present at the meeting as she recovering from recent childbirth. And Frances Fleming, the selectmen's vice-chairwoman, was not available for comment Wednesday because she was traveling.

One resident who attended the selectmen's meeting was not impressed by the revision. "I think this was undemocratic," said Toby Arsenian, who often attends municipal sessions. "When the issue of permitting drinking in restaurants was raised (a half-dozen years ago), there were public hearings."

Paul Murphy, a first-term selectman, said he backs the changes.

"I support the new regulations to help in economic expansion," Murphy said, "and I look forward to the day when you can go out to a local place and watch a Red Sox or Patriot game.

"We worked closely in committee on this, and I didn't feel a public hearing was necessary," Murphy added. "We're elected to make tough decisions, and this change to existing regulations is within our purview as selectmen."

Dyke Hendrickson can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at dhendrickson@gloucestertimes.com.

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