RIP Lord Hobo.

The cocky and uncompromisingly superior beer bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has met its demise. At least in name.

But that’s not the full story, only the ending. 

Lord Hobo’s founder, Daniel Lanigan, long reigned over the Boston beer scene. He grew a small neighborhood pub a mile from Harvard University into one of the country’s top beer destinations. Unsatisfied, Lanigan then launched one of the fastest growing breweries in American history. He dreamt of making it a billion dollar company. 

The hobo king has long been known as an unapologetically brash publican whose opinionated views on beers often involved telling people they brewed or drank shitty beer. In an interview in 2014, Lanigan described his approach to me. “We’re very deliberate about what we’re selling,” he said. “When I came to the Boston market five years ago, there was a lot of sweet, over-carbonated, highly alcoholic beers for sale in the classic beer bars of Boston. And I didn’t want to sell any of that stuff. So I deliberately tried to change, in my own small way, the palate of the craft beer drinker in Boston. We’ve been sort of force feeding folks beers that I think are better than what was being served.”

Bostonians happily obliged. But that was a long time ago now.

Lanigan no longer owns the brewery. He’s embroiled in lawsuits. He can’t even call the bar Lord Hobo anymore. And he may not even own it much longer if sale plans go through.

A decade removed from Lanigan’s quest to improve the “boring Boston beer scene,” as he called it, Lord Hobo has long lost its spirit. The beer list is a shadow of its former glory, the focus on serving world-class beers in proper glassware by well-informed servers is ancient history. 

What the hell happened here?

Building A Beer Empire

In 1994, Lanigan got his start working at The Other Side Cafe, a notoriously quirky bar in Boston’s tony Back Bay that derived its name from its location on the wrong side of posh Newbury Street. There, he was exposed to classic brands, such as Sinebrychoff, A. Le Coq Stout, Aventinus, and Saison Dupont. Five years later he took over the beer program and elevated and upgraded it. Ambitious and with his own view of how things should be, Lanigan left The Other Side in 2002 to open his own place. 

He moved back to Western Massachusetts, where he had attended college, and found a location to open his place. Located in a nondescript roadside mall on the outskirts of the small college town of Amherst, Lanigan’s The Moan and Dove became a destination for beer lovers throughout the region. Local importers and distributors Dan and Will Shelton befriended Lanigan when he opened the pub and provided him with great beers, including a robust lineup of Cantillon, while also helping further shape his strong personal attitudes about beer. 

People took notice of the small pub. By 2006, BeerAdvocate pronounced The Moan and Dove the best beer bar in the country. That year, Lanigan opened a second beer bar, The Dirty Truth, in nearby Northampton. He also went on to open other beer bars, Alewife NYC in Queens and Alewife Baltimore.

Despite having moved out of Boston, Lanigan always hoped to return to the city and open a beer bar. By 2008, he returned to take over management of The Other Side. He sold his interests in his other bars or closed them to focus on the Boston market. When a deal to later take over ownership of the bar fell through, Lanigan turned his attention to Cambridge, winning a bankrupt bar in an auction, and in 2010 transforming it into Lord Hobo after overcoming some issues with neighbors and the City of Cambridge. His taps again filled with some of the world’s best beers, carefully selected for his own personal measure of quality. 

The Lord Hobo bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts has to change its name. Photo of Andy Crouch.

Lanigan was hardcore about not serving beers that failed to meet his exacting standards and was unafraid to tell brewers he thought they made terrible beer. 

In a Boston Magazine article about Boston Beer founder Jim Koch, Lanigan said of the Samuel Adams brand, “I think what they are trying to do is make beer that is more flavorful than the fizzy yellow lager that was [once] popular everywhere. [But] they just don’t fit into what I am doing. For me, serving something that is mediocre is just really not what I do.” 

His bar possessed an air of elitism and he liked it that way. As he often said, for eight bucks, you could have the best beer in the world. Why would you drink anything else?

Building The World’s Best Brewery

After years building successful bar programs and beer lists and helping shape countless palates, Lanigan believed the Boston beer scene was seriously lacking in brewing culture. Inspired by people standing in line for hazy New England-style IPAs in Vermont, he decided to open his own brewery to fill this void. 

Lanigan spent years looking at “every empty building in Boston” to find a location for the new brewery, he told me in 2014. He could never find a suitable location in Boston and found the city was unsupportive in his efforts, while the suburbs offered greater assistance. 

By 2014, Lanigan located a massive warehouse that once housed a granite and stone company in Woburn, a suburb just north of Boston. The brash beer baron named himself chief executive officer of the brewery and installed a 40-barrel brewhouse, a massive gamble for a brand new brewing company. 

By 2015, the first tanks went in and his team started brewing in June. Later that month, the newly christened Lord Hobo Brewing Company released its first beer, the memorably named Boomsauce, an 8% ABV double IPA that would quickly become the brewery’s flagship. Lanigan focused on a small number of core brands in the brewery’s early years, and his timing couldn’t have been better. 

Riding a wave of growing popularity of the New England IPA style, Lord Hobo Brewing grew at an absolutely insane clip. The brewery skyrocketed to more than 400-percent growth in 2016, with production rising to more than 15,000 barrels, a mark rarely, if ever, met by a new brewery. The company distributed beers in dozens of states across the country and could barely handle demand. 

By 2017, only two years after opening, Lord Hobo Brewing needed cash to help fund its exponential growth. The brewery engaged in a round of fundraising, which included a significant minority equity investment from Valterra Partners, a boutique growth capital firm.

“Fundraising is a necessary evil in any fast-growing brewery, and recent clamor for LHBCo beer has accelerated our capital needs,” Lanigan said in a press release at the time. “I’m ecstatic by the immense amount of support from our partners and growing fan base […] I’m grateful that we don’t have to slow this train due to capital constraints. The LHBCo team is dedicated to sharing our beers with thirsty-consumers and the ability to fulfill demand is incredibly exciting.” 

By 2018, the brewery produced nearly 37,000 barrels and Lanigan told a trade publication he expected to break 50,000 in 2019. The brewery doubled its cellar capacity to an astonishing 240,000 barrels. Industry and business publications feted Lanigan for his company’s success. The self-help guru Tony Robbins touted Lanigan’s story in a splashy article on his website, heralding his “power of playing big.” Lanigan had attended the celebrity speaker’s Business Mastery class in 2016, where Robbins said of Lanigan’s story, “You didn’t sell me on the beer. You sold me on having a greater experience of life. And it’s a difference of spending $4 or $8.” Lanigan told Robbins that he had a goal of making Lord Hobo Brewing a billion dollar company in 10 years.

Lanigan was riding high, making money, and atop the beer industry. His billion dollar dreams, however, would soon come to a crashing halt. 

Riding A Wave Of Success

Lanigan enjoyed showing off his success, often driving expensive cars around Boston, including a $650,000 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster, which he called a “carnival ride with a shot of cocaine.” 

In 2017, he gave an interview to Mercedes-Benz of Burlington while driving a Mercedes-AMG E63 S. His ‘LordLanigan’ TikTok page discussed his views on cars worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was a dedicated sneakerhead, wearing Louis Vuitton Nike Air Force Ones, which retail for thousands. 

Lanigan, through Lord Hobo Brewing, remained aggressive. In March of 2019, Lord Hobo announced that its newest beer, called 617 (for Boston’s area code), would debut in a few weeks in a big way: at opening day for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. 

It was big news for the brand and for craft beer generally as securing a spot at Fenway was notoriously difficult. The only problem: Lord Hobo didn’t own the 617 trademark. That belonged to another brewery, Stony Creek in Connecticut, which had secured the trademark in 2011. 

Lord Hobo Brewing’s 617 is served at Fenway Park. Photo by Andy Crouch.

Noticing that Stony Creek hadn’t been active with the beer, however, Lanigan forged ahead and the brewery filed its own application for a trademark. Lord Hobo argued that Stony Creek was squatting on the brand. Lanigan’s brash play paid off. The breweries eventually settled the dispute and Stony Creek relinquished the valuable brand name. The beer continues to be sold at Fenway Park. 

Buoyed by the win, Lanigan and his partners planned for huge growth. 

Lord Hobo Brewing didn’t quite hit the 50,000 barrel threshold in 2019, falling just short at a still respectable 47,000 barrels according to data from the New Brewer. The brewery expanded its Woburn taproom in August of 2020 and continued plans, despite COVID-19, to open a showcase taproom that Lanigan called “the Taj Mahal of breweries” in Boston’s expensive Seaport neighborhood in March of 2022, at a reported cost of $8 million

Lord Hobo planned a second phase involving an 18,000 square foot brewery and restaurant in the space, all despite having an oversized and underutilized system a few miles away in Woburn. In the summer of 2022, Lanigan announced plans to take over a massive concert and performance venue in Somerville, going so far as to adorn the facade of the former ONCE Lounge and Ballroom with a sign blaring LORD HOBO COMING SOON. 

Troubles Ahead

The 617 trademark win, however, served as a high point for a brewery that was about to experience serious growing pains in the face of tough market forces and the founder’s own misconduct. 

After failing to meet its growth targets in 2019, the brewery laid off nearly a dozen staff members. The second phase of the Seaport project never got off the ground. And a year after its announcement, the Somerville concert hall project was quietly abandoned with no public notice.

“Daniel is not involved anymore and hasn’t been for some years now. He’s no longer an owner and hasn’t had an equity stake for the best part of two years.” 

-Simon Thorpe, CEO of Lord Hobo Brewing Co.

Troubles for the brewery continued. In 2020, the brewery’s production dropped to 30,000 barrels. In 2021, it fell again to 28,000, and again in 2022 to 23,000, before flatlining at 17,000 barrels in 2023, roughly the amount it made five years earlier. All the while, the brewery had to service sizable debt levels from ramping up cellar capacity for growth that wasn’t sustained. 

The pandemic also hit Lord Hobo Cambridge hard. The bar closed for more than a year before reopening in late March of 2021. It faced increased competition, ironically, from brewery taprooms, including the always packed Lamplighter Brewing just a few blocks away. 

Beyond issues related to the pandemic, Lanigan himself came under fire on June 5, 2021, when his name first surfaced in several posts on the Instagram accounts of the former Notch Brewing head brewer (@ratmagnet) and Embolden Act Advance (@EmboldenActAdvance). The posts, which dealt with allegations from women who had experienced harassment, misogyny, and assaults while working in the beer industry, specifically referenced Lanigan and contended that he had engaged in inappropriate behavior and made improper advances towards female employees and prospective hires.

Within days, Lanigan stepped down as CEO of Lord Hobo Brewing, but remained on the company’s board of directors. The brewery’s president, Nathan Whipple, took to the brewery’s social media pages, announced an investigation into the allegations, and affirmed the brewery’s commitment “to providing a safe community, free of harassment, bullying and discrimination in all forms for our employees, industry partners, and customers.” Whipple also posted an apology on behalf of the brewery. “As the president of this company, it is important that you hear this clearly from me — this behavior is unacceptable in our society, in our industry and at Lord Hobo,” he wrote.

The brewery released a statement to the media, noting “Last year as we evaluated our pandemic response, we identified the need for clear and experienced leadership, and certainly the reckoning in our industry reinforced that need.” 

Lord Hobo Brewing soon announced that industry veteran Brian Walsh, who had most recently served as chief executive officer for Smuttynose Brewing in New Hampshire as it exited bankruptcy, would take over as CEO. 

In addition to hiring Walsh, the brewery also appointed to its board longtime beer industry executive Simon Thorpe and Wendy Nowokunski, a partner and advisor at Valterra, the private investment firm that purchased nearly 50 percent of Lord Hobo Brewing in 2017. Walsh departed the company in October 2021 due to health concerns, according to Thorpe, who took over as CEO. 

Lanigan owned nearly 20 percent of the company and remained on the board until early 2023, when he quietly sold his shares back to the company.

“Daniel is not involved anymore and hasn’t been for some years now,” Thorpe said. “He’s no longer an owner and hasn’t had an equity stake for the best part of two years.” 

Despite leaving the brewery he founded, Lanigan continued to co-own and operate the Lord Hobo bar in Cambridge, which led to some understandable confusion among consumers. 

According to Thorpe, the bar had been using the Lord Hobo name under license from the brewery. Around the time Lanigan sold his shares in Lord Hobo Brewing, the company decided to terminate the license for the Lord Hobo name at the Cambridge bar. According to a post on Reddit by Aubree Karls, Lord Hobo Brewing’s marketing director, the brewery “repeatedly asked [Lanigan] to remove any signage or association with Lord Hobo” after terminating its license. 

Thorpe said the brewery wanted to focus on the Seaport and Woburn taproom locations, along with exploring “other more productive locations that would help the business elsewhere in Massachusetts.” 

Thorpe acknowledged that Lanigan and his partner had “taken their time to kind of transition it over” but said it was an “amicable split” and that “these things just take time.” “So they took their time to unwind it, that wasn’t a problem for us,” Thorpe said. “But at a certain point in time, it’s been long enough.” 

In terminating the license, Thorpe also noted the importance of helping Lord Hobo Brewing establish its own identity. “I think as much as anything it was to make sure that we had made a clean break in our relationship with Daniel,” he says. “And at the same time, it wasn’t a particularly productive location. It would need a lot of investment to make it work properly.”

Lanigan’s Legal Issues

In August of 2017, Brett Hershey was interested in joining the ownership group for Lord Hobo Brewing and Lanigan agreed to sell him some shares. That month Hershey and Lanigan signed a purchase agreement for the sale of $180,000 worth of Lanigan’s shares in the company, amounting to .556% of the company. Lanigan was supposed to retain those shares until he could vote to have Hershey admitted as an owner of the brewery. In the interim, Lanigan was to provide Hershey with updated financial statements and company information provided to other owners, and pass along his share of any profits. 

A few months before signing that agreement, Hershey agreed to lend Lanigan $200,000. The pair signed a promissory note and Lanigan agreed to repay the loan with interest within one year. 

The deadline for voting Hershey into ownership came and went. Hershey followed up with Lanigan, several times, with no results. Lanigan either didn’t respond or was evasive. 

By January of 2022, Hershey was fed up. His attorney sent Lanigan a letter demanding repayment of the loan and a return of the $180,000, plus interest. Lanigan refused to return the money or even respond. 

In April of 2022, Hershey filed suit against Lanigan in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, alleging breach of contract and other claims.The lawsuit alleged that Lanigan intentionally and wrongly failed to repay the loan, transfer the shares, or undertake any efforts to make Hershey a shareholder. 

A few months later in October, Lanigan agreed to a judgment against him for the entirety of Hershey’s claims, plus interest. The court entered a $402,878.66 judgment for Hershey, plus interest. To resolve the case, Lanigan agreed to pay the full amount alleged in the complaint. 

Since receiving the judgment, Hershey has moved to garnish Lanigan’s wages and to collect on the award. As of April of 2024, Lanigan had not made any payments on the judgment and debt, including more than $40,000 in additional interest, according to filings made by Hershey seeking to attach Lanigan’s assets. 

In opposing the attachment process, Lanigan wrote in an affidavit that he “has close to $2 million dollars in debts and liabilities” and that he “has been selling personal items on consignment and relying on family members” to cover his expenses.

Lanigan also declared that he owed more than $225,000 in state and federal taxes and that he was behind on payments for two vehicles he owned and had recently received an extension to avoid their repossession. He reported that his checking account balance was $15.34 as of February of 2024. 

In response, Hershey submitted two pages of Lanigan’s bank statements showing deposits of more than $85,000 in two months. 

In April of 2024, the Middlesex Superior Court issued Hershey a permanent injunction, which barred the various companies associated with Lanigan, including Checkraise LLC, the holding company for the Lord Hobo bar, from paying him any monies and directing the funds to Hershey’s attorney.

A former landlord also filed suit against Lanigan in May of 2024, alleging that he breached his lease on a $9,000 a month apartment in Boston’s InterContinental, a luxury complex overlooking Fort Point Channel and downtown Boston. The landlord alleged that Lanigan owes nearly $50,000 in past due rent and other costs associated with his breach of the lease. That suit is ongoing. 

Lanigan initially did not respond to several emails, direct messages, and text messages requesting comment. After several attempts to contact him, Lanigan agreed to a phone interview but failed to join the scheduled call and did not reply to follow-up messages offering a chance to comment on a detailed list of questions.

Hobo Life, Hobo Death

Lanigan’s connection to the beer industry appears near its end. The Lord Hobo bar has recently been listed for sale on an industry website, with the asking price dropping from $375,000 to $225,000, confirmed by someone involved in the transaction.

A recent pint served at the bar
formerly known as Lord Hobo in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo by Andy Crouch.

On a recent weekend evening, I stopped by the bar formerly known as Lord Hobo. Its once familiar painted sign, with bold white gothic lettering topped by an ornate red crown, no longer adorned the facade, having been painted over in all black. A simple sandwich board stood out front, coaxing customers inside. The windows still boasted Lord Hobo themed neons, but they weren’t illuminated, and very little suggested the bar had any affiliation with Lord Hobo Brewing. Gone also are the dozens of ostentatious LHBC-branded tap handles ringing the bar’s 40 tap lines, replaced by simple, utilitarian black tap handles. 

The room was empty save for three guys having a beer at the bar and one couple at a table. The haphazardly chalked tap list still listed Boomsauce for sale but no other Lord Hobo Brewing beers. I asked the bartender about the “Hefeweissbier wheat beer” listed without any brewery name. The bartender initially looked confused until I pointed at the list on the wall. He then started scrolling through his phone for a minute or two, before garbling a name I eventually deciphered as Weihenstephaner.

I opted for a local porter, which arrived in a dirty pint glass, with no foam, on top of a Lord Hobo Brewing coaster. 

The swagger, beer loving spirit, and opinionated passion that once propelled the place to the top echelons of American beer bars was gone. The Daniel Lanigan of that era would hate this place. 

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