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Highly Regarded Mt. Pleasant Supper Club Restaurant Request for Nightclub License Opposed

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.]

A recent application to the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) for the conversion of a restaurant license to that of a nightclub by the popular Mt. Pleasant neighborhood establishment known as Haydee’s threatens to re-ignite the recent divisive “alcohol” and live entertainment wars thought to have been settled only two years ago with the granting by the ABC Board of limited entertainment and dance floor endorsements to the liquor

licenses of Haydee’s and two other Mt. Pleasant Street restaurants — Don Jaime’s and Don Juan’s. Board orders authorizing these activities incorporated, and modified, provisions in “so-called” voluntary agreements negotiated between community organizations, groups of neighborhood activists, and each of the three establishments. [See, “City’s Alcohol Board Allows Live Music and Dancing for Two Mt. Pleasant Restaurants Previously Prohibited; Very Few Objections,” InTowner, May 2008, page 1.]

Despite predictions of dire consequences should these entertainment endorsements be granted — Mt. Pleasant Street becoming a second Adams Morgan or a 9th and U Streets-morphed nightclub strip — adding limited live entertainment and prescribed dance floor dancing at certain hours has apparently worked well for these supper club-style restaurants and the surrounding neighborhoods. As yet during the present controversy nobody has asserted that “chaos would descend” upon Mt. Pleasant Street and its immediately surrounding streets were Haydee’s to expand its hours, special events, and directly related activities in concert with the neighbors’ expressed concerns.

In community forums and Mt. Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meetings, the outpouring of support for Haydee’s and its desire to expand and extend its supper club and special events activities has been overwhelming. Standing room only crowds have jammed these community sessions, and even those few who have objected to Haydee’s request for an unencumbered nightclub license — no entertainment endorsements are required for a nightclub — have spoken highly of Haydee and her supper club-style restaurant’s many commendable contributions to both Mt. Pleasant generally and to the beleaguered fortunes of the retail and restaurant components of the mixed residential and commercial strip of Mt. Pleasant Street’s four extra-long blocks. For its part, Haydee’s offers its record of 20 years of exemplary behavior together with its services and facilities as persuasive justification for being granted its nightclub license application.

In informal testimony at the Mt. Pleasant ANC’s community forum and the subsequent ANC monthly meeting, Haydee’s further asserted justification for its request by citing the difficulties required in fulfilling the 45 percent food sales requirement for liquor-serving licensees of supper club-style restaurants. Haydee’s further complained of the administrative burdens and managerial constrictions on their fundamental operations and of their needs for flexibility, especially during economic downturns such as we are presently experiencing.

Haydee’s concludes that a nightclub license would give them the relief they seek, and in this Haydee’s is supported by a unanimous Mt. Pleasant ANC and such vocal community organizations as Hear Mt. Pleasant and Always Mt. Pleasant, joined by numerous Hispanic business and professional groups — all of which strongly supported the ABC Board’s previous granting two years ago of limited live entertainment and small dance floor privileges to the nighttime offerings of Mt. Pleasant restaurants. And given Haydee’s established track record over the past two years, these community organizations are equally strong in their support of an application to the ABC Board for a nightclub license that would allow Haydee’s to extend its current offerings and expand its special events.

Members of Historic Mt. Pleasant and the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance (MPNA), however, oppose Haydee’s nightclub application — even while concurring in a positive impression of Haydee’s success with its current limited live entertainment, dancing, and special events activities. Their fears focus primarily on unanticipated consequences of subsequent owners or sub-licensees of Haydee’s nightclub license, the precedent setting nature of a first nightclub license in Mt. Pleasant — noting that even Adams Morgan has no nightclub licensees. Further, they cite problems from when a previous occupant of the premises now occupied by Haydee’s, The African Room, conducted a nightclub establishment.

At a further community meeting — this being a public session of MPNA’s executive committee, which serves as its board and conducts business for the Neighborhood Alliance — Jane Kelly and Faye Armstrong of Historic Mt. Pleasant were joined by members of MPNA’s board in reiterating these concerns. MPNA’s board, led by Sam Broeksmit, offered Haydee’s a set of conciliatory recommendations which Broeksmit and his board members asserted would satisfy at least 90 percent of what they understood to be Haydee’s concerns. These were:

(1) a lowering of the food sales requirement from 45 to 35 percent of total alcohol and food receipts, including those from takeout and delivery; (2) the granting of expanded capacity for a larger dance floor, defined as larger than the current one but less than the entire first floor; (3) longer hours of operation by the addition of another hour nightly, from 11 pm to 12 midnight on weekdays and from 1 am to 2 am on weekends and including holidays and three-day weekends to the 2 am closing time; (4) increasing the allowable number of special events from one every two months to two every month; (5) the allowance of discounted alcohol sales for traditional happy hour periods, and the sale of pitchers of mixed drinks such as Margaritas; (6) support for the establishment of two sets of maximum numbers of patrons, one being that of the number of restaurant seats and the other being total number of occupants; and (7) support for the conversion of Haydee’s restaurant license to that of the more liberal tavern license.

Haydee and Mario Alas, accompanied by their attorney Robert Waldeck, declined MPNA’s  negotiating offer, countering with their fundamental opposition to MPA’s proposal and their apparently non-negotiable intent to continue to press forward with their pending application to convert their restaurant license to that of a nightclub. With the deadline of March 8, 2010 looming for the filing of protest petitions, MPNA’s board voted unanimously at its March 6, 2010 meeting to protest Haydee’s nightclub application at the scheduled March 22nd ABC Board hearing. And, according to two of its executive board members, private correspondence to the ABC Board from MPNA members and Historic Mt. Pleasant will also oppose a nightclub license for Haydee’s. Others may weigh in as well.

The Mt. Pleasant ANC will be joined in its support of Haydee’s nightclub license application by Always Mt. Pleasant, activist members of Hear Mt. Pleasant, tenant associations from large and medium-size near-by apartment buildings, and Hispanic business and professional associations, among others.