The entertainment mogul is in danger of losing additional licenses
By Dusty Christensen
NORTHAMPTON — City officials have revoked the liquor license for one of property mogul Eric Suher’s nightclubs. And Suher is in danger of losing two other liquor licenses, including for the Iron Horse Music Hall.
At its Feb. 14 meeting, Northampton’s Licence Commission decided to cancel the liquor license for the Pearl Street Nightclub because the venue has not been open, according to Natasha Yakovlev, who chairs the commission. The commissioners also told Suher that he has until June 1 to open the Iron Horse Music Hall and Green Room or those liquor licenses will be canceled, too.
“We scheduled this hearing and asked him to come in to review all five of his licenses because none of those businesses are currently open,” Yakovlev told The Shoestring in a phone interview Thursday. The commission decided not to take action on the other two licenses Suher owns, for The Basement and the Calvin Theatre.
Efforts to reach Suher were unsuccessful on Thursday. Suher is able to appeal the license cancellation to the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. If the license is ultimately revoked, it would come under the city’s control and a lottery would likely be held to determine what business would receive it.
It is not the first time that the License Commission has clashed with Suher. In 2014, the commission revoked his liquor license for the Green Room, which they said at the time had sat idle for five years. The city eventually sued him to get it back, though Suher eventually transferred one of his other liquor licenses over to the venue.
Suher has come under heavy criticism in years past for leaving his Northampton store fronts vacant. In 2019, New England Public Radio reported that several Iron Horse Entertainment Group workers alleged he stole their wages and intimidated them, and in 2021 the attorney general’s office fined him for those labor violations. In September, unionized stagehands and technicians filed a labor complaint against Suher.
Suher purchased the Iron Horse in 1995, and in the following three years he acquired the Calvin Theatre and Pearl Street. Those three venues were the defining music venues in Northampton for many years, though newer spaces have emerged in recent years.
Suher’s music venues have sat largely vacant since the COVID-19 pandemic began — except for the occasional cover band playing recently at the Calvin. In August, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers sued Suher on allegations of copyright infringement over one of those cover bands playing songs by the rock band Chicago at the Calvin Theatre.
The Iron Horse has not held a concert since March 2020 and Pearl Street only hosted a few in the fall of 2021. According to the entertainment group’s website, there are no upcoming shows or events as of this writing.
Yakovlev told The Shoestring that Suher argued before the License Commission that musicians aren’t touring much after the pandemic.
“We felt that other venues have demonstrated that that’s not really accurate,” Yakovlev said, pointing out that the Academy of Music, the BOMBYX Center for Arts & Equity and The Parlor Room, as well as The Drake in Amherst, have all been booking acts frequently.
The Iron Horse is an iconic venue in Northampton, Yakovlev added. The commission’s hope, she said, is that it reopens.
Liquor licenses have been in the spotlight recently in Northampton, where Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra and the City Council recently passed special legislation to increase the city’s number of all-liquor licenses by seven. The state Legislature must now approve that bill.
“Now more than ever we’re hearing from existing, and also hopeful restaurateurs, that to be able to make it they really feel like an all-alcohol license is necessary,” Sciarra said at a Community Resources Committee meeting on Feb. 8.
Because the state limits the number of all-alcohol licenses municipalities can grant, all of Northampton’s liquor licenses are spoken for at the moment. Many of those licenses are bought and sold on the private market.
According to City Hall, in 2021 the Majestic bought one from the The World War II Club for $20,000, NoHo Social Cafe and Speakeasy purchased one from Pine Grove Golf Club for $16,000 and Highbrow paid Bistro Les Gras $25,000 for its license. Last year, Tellus purchased the license that Patria gave up for $36,000.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
The Shoestring is committed to bringing you ad-free content. We rely on readers to support our work! You can support independent news for Western Mass by visiting ourDonate page.