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P Street’s Pasha Lounge Nightclub-like Activities Continue to Stir Opposition

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

By Anthony L. Harvey

A long awaited protest hearing over the renewal of Marrakesh Palace/Pasha Lounge’s liquor license took place on June 15th at a formal hearing before the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC). All five ABC Board Members — there are two vacancies — were present to hear angry assertions by residents of the adjacent Dupont West and across-the-street Westpark apartment buildings, the Dupont Circle ANC, and the office of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans of alleged liquor license and voluntary agreement violations on the part of both Pasha Lounge proprietors Khalid Khartami and Jamal Bouzid and the party promoters who from time to time rent both of the establishment’s upper two floors — its Pasha Lounge — for late-night entertainments.

Marrakesh/Pasha occupies a beautifully restored, large three-story Victorian town house in the 2100 block of P Street, NW. It was previously the site of nationally known Mr. P’s, a pioneering gay bar and DC night spot that had fallen on hard times, leaving behind a dilapidated and abandoned building.

Proprietors Khartami and Bouzid lavishly restored and extended the building’s ground floor level, installing a widely praised Moroccan restaurant – its part of the ABC license is not in dispute — and creating on the upper level a contemporary lounge with an entertainment endorsement to their liquor license.

A seemingly evolving business plan during an economic downturn which followed the seriously disruptive DC transportation department streetscape project has seen an increase in the use of Pasha Lounge by independent party promoters. It is these special events, apparently, that has been much of the cause of what the neighbors complain of — namely, frequent weekends when crowds gathers at Pasha Lounge’s 2 a.m. closing time in front of the establishment, sometimes spilling onto the next door Dupont West apartment building’s driveway amid smoking and loud talking, general carousing and, at times, fist-fighting and brawling.

The scene at Pasha Lounge is always popular. Also popular are special events like the lingerie fashion show party of which the promoters posted a video clip that can be viewed by following the link to http://tinyurl.com/3upqphj.

According to compelling testimony of one witnesses, Dupont West’s Brian Lowry’s, these occurrences happen approximately twice each month. Lowry lives next door, on his apartment building’s fifth floor directly facing one side of the Marrakesh/Pasha Lounge — this being directly across the driveway entrance to Dupont West’s underground parking. Long-time resident John Hammond and two other Dupont West residents echoed Lowry’s complaints as did a witness statement from Jeffry Alan Rueckgauer, president of the Westpark Tenants Association. (However, because he was not present for cross examination, his statement was not entered into the official hearing record.)

And in an extravagantly phrased letter from Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, which was accepted into the record, Evans stated that in his 20 years on the DC Council he “could not recall a licensed ABC establishment in greater need of [his] direct intervention because of its violence, excessive noise, and repeated failure to comply with District law.” Continuing, he wrote, “It is no understatement to say that almost the entirety of complaints that come to my office involving ABC establishments in Dupont Circle involve Marrakesh.” Evans concluded: “I strongly encourage the [ABC] Board to deny this license renewal request.”

In eloquent testimony from an energetic and articulate new ANC commissioner, Kevin O’Connor, the Board heard arguments for a continuance of the work by the Dupont Circle ANC, which O’Connor was representing, in seeking to find solutions that would  help alleviate the problems experienced in the neighborhood. Continuing, he noted: “We are not opposed to the establishment keeping its license if it makes adjustments that protect the public safety and maintains peace, order and quiet for the people of West Dupont Circle.” Among those adjustments, O’Connor specified noise abatement, the re-establishment of an “MPD detail regardless of District monetary contributions to the [MPD] reimbursable detail program. Alternately, we would favor changing the hours of operation of the establishment to end at midnight every night, which would be before most of the violent incidents at the establishment have been occurring. If these cannot be met, I believe the ABC Board would have no choice but to revoke the establishment’s liquor license.”

In the absence of corroborating findings of noise or other violations by the ABC’s own investigators, and the difficulties experienced by professional audio engineers generally to distinguish between street noise and noise from one of several nearby night spots, the ABC Board was left with four hours of competing  and contested testimony and exhibits with which to craft a decision.