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Four New Liquor Licenses Approved for West Dupont Circle Moratorium Zone

By Anthony L. Harvey

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

In a rare show of community collegiality before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) was joined by the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) and the Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals Association (DCMAP) at a public hearing before the ABC Board on September 17th to request an amendment to the current moratorium prohibiting any new liquor licenses in the West Dupont Circle ABC license moratorium zone.

Spearheaded by ANC Commissioner Mike Silverstein, the moratorium amendment being requested by the ANC specifically sought ABC Board approval for two additional beer and wine (“DR” class) licenses for restaurants in the moratorium’s two-block section of P Street between the Circle and the P Street Bridge where a “restaurant row” is developing. This business development is strongly supported by all three community groups, and is considered especially important after the loss of businesses and customers during, and following, the recent P Street reconstruction and sidewalk restoration project.

DCCA President Joel Lawson prefaced his supporting remarks by noting his personal goal as the association’s new president of bridging the gap between the community’s residents and businesses. DCMAP’s Chairman Jonathan ten Hoopen, accompanied by the association’s Executive Director Ed Grandis, testified in support of the lifting of the moratorium — which has two more years to run — in its entirety, raising the potentially explosive issues of a “wide-open land rush for new licenses” and that of “pre-selection” of the two establishments slated for the two licenses requested by the ANC.

The licenses specifically requested by the ANC were for Pizza Paradiso for its existing restaurant site, having transferred its present license to a new restaurant location in the expanded Blaine Mansion development site where the old hardware store and bike shop used to be, and Aioli, the new light fare Mediterranean restaurant now located in the former Fairfax Market premises which briefly became the recently failed Fractured Prune.

In asking the Board to consider lifting in its entirety the remaining two years of the current five-year moratorium, ten Hoopen and Grandis asserted that others in addition to Pizza Paradiso and Aioli might like to apply for liquor licenses. In this they were joined by Helene Bloom, co-owner of Soho Tea and Coffee, who expressed her desire for adding to her menu the serving of beer and wine. Soho presently provides homemade soups and “hot” sandwiches together with pastries and snacks to accompany its non-alcoholic beverages.

These issues could conceivably have torpedoed the day. Instead, Mark Medley of Mark and Orlando’s restaurant turned to Ms. Bloom — they were on a witness panel together — and spontaneously spoke of being unaware of her desire to acquire a liquor license and offered her his support on the spot. ANC Commissioner Silverstein diffused the “pre-selection” bombshell by explaining that the ANC was simply responding to the only two requests for new licenses that it had received. Ultimately, the Board dealt with the open season, “land rush” issue by limiting the number of new licenses in its subsequent order amending the moratorium prohibition.

In concluding the hearing, ABC Board Chair Peter Feather and several other Board members probed the petitioners and witnesses on peace, order, and quiet issues, and on whether or not restaurant DR class licenses should be replaced with restaurant CR class licenses that allow for the inclusion of spirits (cocktails, hard liquor) in prospective new liquor licenses. And, as promised, the ABC Board issued its order, complete with its findings and reasoning, on October 1st, granting four new licenses, all of which could be CRs (or DRS, if applicants so desired) and added a fourth exception to the continuing moratorium, having learned that PQ Blaine Mansion, Inc., t/a Le Pain Quotidien in the space once occupied by The Third Day flower and plant store at 20th Street corner also sought to apply for a license.