Photo curtesy of the City Paper.
The Washington City Paper reported earlier this week on the scene you see above: people camping out trying to snag a liquor license for Georgetown. As Perry Stein writes:
Yeroushalmie, a developer in D.C., is camping outside the government building in hope of snagging a coveted Georgetown liquor license. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration announced last month that it would be accepting applications this Thursday at 8:30 a.m. for a tavern and three restaurant liquor licenses. This is only the second time in almost 20 years, according to ABRA spokeswoman Jessie Cornelius, that a tavern license has become available in Georgetown.
Yeroushalmie pitched his $39 Walmart tent on Tuesday around 8 p.m. He needs a license for a high-end sushi restaurant he’s planning to open in a building he already owns along Wisconsin Avenue
GM predicted this last month when the city announced the release of the licenses. GM analogized to a gold rush, but it appears the more apt metaphor would be Led Zeppelin tickets.
This ridiculous first-come-first-served policy has the potential to lead to the exact same failure the last series of license releases led to: nothing. As GM wrote earlier, of the seven new licenses issued last time, five ended up going to establishments that either never opened or have since closed (or simply stopped using their license).
GM suggested already that one answer is to simply remove the moratorium just on M St. It appears that the economics might rule out new restaurants on M St. right now, but the moratorium certainly isn’t helping to keep restaurants opening on M St.
Another option would be to say licenses can’t be held in safe keeping for more than 12 months. This is a huge third rail for some restaurants who have sat on licenses for years and years. GM’s answer to that is “tough cookies”. The only reason those licenses have any value at all is due to the continuation of the moratorium. If the moratorium were ended, it doesn’t matter how much money they sank into the license because they’d be worth no more than the nominal registration fees. The idea that some restaurants feel they have an inviolate property right to a liquor license they refuse to use is laughable.
As long as we’re stuck with the moratorium, ideally some sort of a qualitative review could be performed on a batch of applicants, not just the first one through the door. Then the best candidate would be rewarded the license. Unfortunately, GM can’t think of any practical way that could be accomplished.
He just wishes that as the very least, ABRA would insist on a clearer business plan before granting the license. Right now, all you really need is an address. It doesn’t even need to be a space that holds a restaurant space. Hu’s Wear got a license using their retail store’s address. Years later and no restaurant ever opened. Yet they still get to keep the license they never used.
There’s got to be a better way.