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From the Publisher's Desk...

Restaurants Run Like Nightclubs Hurt Not Only Residents But Legitimate Restaurateurs

As regular readers of these commentaries know, we have long stated our opposition to the often, unwarranted  harassment of legitimate applicants for ABC licenses, particularly the tactics of the so-called “gangs of five” that are permitted by law and regulation to interject themselves into the proceedings before the ANC Board, too often in ways that cause unreasonable delay and huge expense with no other apparent motive than to seemingly derail the entire process thereby causing the applicant to abandon the effort.

But this is not to suggest that we reject the notion that residents can never have legitimate concerns about the affect on the peaceable enjoyment of their homes that might be disrupted by the poor management –- or  sometimes even illegal operations –- of close-by ABC-licensed establishments. That this is perceived by large numbers of Adams Morgan residents who live on 18th Street or adjacent to it or in close proximity that the weekend “scene” is out of control is a matter that needs to be taken seriously and addressed in an appropriate manner.

What is not appropriate is to rail against those residents. What is needed is clear-headed analysis of the issues and discussion about what can be done in a balanced way to solve problems. What is not needed is for denunciations and absolute denials that there is now a problem.

Bringing all the neighborhood dissatisfaction to the fore was the recent mayhem that spilled out from an ABC-licensed establishment in the 1800 block of 18th Street. As reported by MPD 3rd District officer Aubrey Mongal, police “were summoned to the ‘District’ nightclub . . . for the report of an aggravated assault involving multiple victims. Once on the scene, police units located four adult males and one adult female suffering from various stab wounds / lacerations. . . . [F]our of the victims had been assaulted inside of the ‘District’ nightclub. . . . The last victim was stabbed on the sidewalk in front of the nightclub. It appears these assaults may have occurred as a result of a large fight that had erupted on the second floor of the establishment.”

We are struck by the reference –- twice –- in the above excerpted portion of the police report to the establishment being a “nightclub.” The reality is, however, that the ABC board has not issued nightclub licenses in Adams Morgan, only restaurant and tavern licenses; District is licensed as a restaurant only, and it is not the only restaurant-licensed establishment that operates as if it is a nightclub in the neighborhood.

And Officer Mongal is not alone in calling District a nightclub. Take a look on Yelp.com, a world-wide source used by the young and the hip for finding the “in” places in which to be seen. The Yelp listing has this establishment listed under the category of “Dance Club” and lists its “ambiance” as “trendy,” emphasizes that it’s “good for dancing,” and features a “full bar”; tellingly, there is no mention about the presence of food. And while it might be argued that Yelp has it wrong, why has not management availed itself of the opportunity provided by Yelp to edit its listing? We know the answer. And Yelp is not alone: Facebook also lists this place as a nightclub.

So why doesn’t the city’s regulators crack down on restaurants that operate like nightclubs but don’t have those licenses. We urge the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) to make this a priority. Its force of inspectors has within the past year been substantially upgraded and it would seem to be feasible to detail a few to dig into identifying the restaurants that are out of compliance rather than waiting for a situation to blow up and reveal what neighbors already have known all along.

If District (and other similar ABC-licensed places) had been properly licensed as a nightclub what occurred there recently might never have happened. That is because ABC-issued nightclub licenses impose special security requirements.

Among those requirements are the following: the preparation of an ABRA-approved security plan; stringent vetting of staff and security guards; that security staff be present on the premises at all times; that patrons be scrutinized as they enter, including pat-downs of men, opening of patron bags and shining a flashlight over their contents; and proactively maintaining peace and order within the premises at all times.

Maybe Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham can get the ball rolling.