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Dupont Circle Ad Hoc Liquor License Protest Group’s Action Results in Sudden Partial Shutdown of Popular 17th Street Sidewalk Café

The following news release was received by The InTowner from Veritas Licensing and Legislative Affairs while the Gay Pride Day parade was still progressing down 17th Street:

For a comprehensive follow-up news report published in our July 2012 issue, “Long-Simmering Hank’s Oyster Bar Dispute Awaits ABC Board Ruling Following Recent Rehearing Mandated by DC Appeals Court,” visit

Neighborhood Parade Celebrants Blocked From Utilizing Portion Of Popular 17th Street Restaurant’s Outdoor Patio To View Annual Parade Due To Pending ABC Board Review Of Complaint By Group Of Only Six Liquor License Opponents.

The lesbian chef and owner of popular Dupont Circle area restaurant Hank’s Oyster Bar was informed by D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) investigators on the eve of the annual “Capital Pride” LGBT parade that the establishment would be required to close half of its outdoor patio at 17th and Q streets, N.W., on the parade route beginning this afternoon, due to the pending resolution by the ABC Board of a scheduled review of a prior decision to terminate a “Voluntary Agreement” with six (6) neighborhood residents.

The Board’s decision to terminate the restrictions in 2010 had been challenged by the small ad hoc group of alcohol licensing opponents, resulting in a decision on May 17 by the District Court of Appeals directing the ABC Board to review its decision to ensure that all requirements of the termination process had been met. Although the appeals court had issued the ruling over three weeks ago, no order had been issued requiring any action by the restaurant pending the ABC Board review.

“This action shutting down half of our outdoor patio on the night before the annual parade was the result of one of the license protestants phoning in a complaint to the city, and occurs before we have even had a hearing by the ABC Board,” said Leeds. “The ongoing harassment by this small band of residents is astonishing and the timing of this individual’s complaint before the annual celebration is despicable.”

Although the matter is scheduled to come before the ABC Board at a meeting next week on Wednesday, June 13, resolution of the issue may take a number of weeks or months.

Jamie Leeds detailed the circumstances of the situation facing the business in an open letter to the community released today, as follows:

“I am the chef/owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar, which I opened in 2005. Before opening the restaurant, I applied for an alcoholic beverage license. Although I had already made my name as a chef in Washington, DC, and had no intention of operating a nightclub, my application was protested by certain individuals living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Because, at that time, the A.B.C. Board refused to give me a timely hearing date to contest the protest, I was forced to sign a voluntary agreement, or lose the opportunity to proceed with the project. The voluntary agreement restricted my hours, and prevented me from expanding or otherwise increasing the occupancy of my business.

“In 2010, seeing an opportunity to expand my successful business, I requested that the ABC Board terminate my voluntary agreement. The advisory neighborhood commission (ANC 2B) wholeheartedly supported the request. After a hearing, and a finding that termination of the VA would not have an adverse impact on the neighborhood, the Board ordered the VA terminated.

“The Board then had a hearing on a request to expand my business to include the building next door, and the public space in front of it, and approved that request.

“In the meantime, the few neighbors opposed to me appealed the termination of the VA to the Court of Appeals. The Court has now reversed the ABC Board, finding that not only do we have to show no adverse impact in terminating the VA, but also that we tried to work it out with the protestants by entering into an amended VA, and that we need the VA termination because of changed circumstances.

“We have our hearing on these last two issues next Wednesday before the ABC Board. We are confident we will prevail, because we did try to work this out with those opposed to us back when we first sought termination of the VA, but they refused to meet. Also, since the Court of Appeals decision was reached, we offered to address their concerns with a more limited VA, but they insist we cut our outdoor occupancy by 25%, even though there have been no complaints. As for changes in the neighborhood, I am sure they are well known to you. Of course, it could take months for the Board to rule.

“Last night [Friday, June 8th], as a result of a complaint by the protesters, we were visited by ABC investigators. We were told we cannot use half of our patio seating area, because of the Court of Appeals decision. This happened before we even have had a hearing before the ABC Board.

“If you agree that allowing a small number of individuals to dictate what happens in our community is wrong, please contact ABRA, Ward 2 CM Jack Evans, CM Jim Graham, Chair of the committee that oversees ABC, and Mayor Vincent Gray. Let them know that the ABC Board should be urged to make a decision quickly after next Wednesday’s hearing, reaffirming the termination of our VA. Also let them know that it is time to stop allowing a few residents to dictate what happens in a neighborhood, particularly when the duly elected ANC members feel otherwise. The right of a group of 5 residents to hold up a license application should be eliminated from the law. Otherwise, the situation I find myself in will undoubtedly occur again.”