Ten Years: The Recent Past

This week GM is celebrating his tenth anniversary by revisiting some of the bigger stories he covered over that time. And today brings us to, well, today. Here are some of the bigger stories of the last several years:

The End of the Liquor License Moratorium

By the time it came to an end, the liquor license moratorium was getting ridiculous. Originally adopted in 1989 to limit the seemingly endless growth of rowdy bars, the moratorium became simply a way to make existing liquor licenses worth more than they ought to have been. When the city released licenses it created a gold rush, where parties claimed the licenses with no concrete plans to actually open a restaurant.

The idea to actually end the moratorium came from the BID in 2015. Initially the idea was met with some skepticism from the community groups. But after some open and frank discussions, common ground was found. As GM wrote in 2016:

Did the moratorium end Georgetown’s partying ways? Certainly not immediately. But it arguably put a ceiling on its growth. And as neighborhoods across the city grew into nightlife destinations of their own, much of the energy was drained from the Georgetown nightlife scene. And the moratorium was not only no longer necessary, it was detrimental.

So egged on by the BID, neighborhood leaders came back together last year and agreed that the moratorium needed to go. After reaching an agreement on how to proceed, the groups requested that the ABC Board not extend the moratorium this year.

Ever since this decision, any restaurant that wants to open in Georgetown knows that there will not be any uncertainty on getting a liquor license. There may be some push-and-pull over hours of operations, outdoor space, music, etc. But whereas ten years ago they may have had to pay upwards of $80,ooo for a license, now they can just get a new one from the city for a few thousand dollars. And that leads to another big story:

The Demise of the College Bars and the Return of Fine Dining

When GM started writing ten years ago, Georgetown was still known for its rowdy “college” bars. And for good reason. All these establishments were still open:

  • Third Edition
  • Garrett’s
  • The Guards
  • Rhino Bar
  • Champions
  • Mr. Smith’s
  • Chadwick’s
  • Georgetown Billiards
  • Saloun

All of those places are closed now (although to be fair, Mr. Smith’s took over Chadwick’s space). The only college bars left are the transplanted Mr. Smith’s and the almost-literally-on-campus Tombs.

But in recent years Georgetown has once again been the site of new and genuinely fine dining. That includes Fiola Mare, Chez Billy Sud, and Reverie. It can’t really be said that the end of the liquor license moratorium was critical for each of these restaurants to open; the moratorium never applied to Washington Harbour (where Fiola Mare is) and Chez Billy Sud simply took over Cafe Larouche’s license. But Reverie did benefit from the new regime. And it is likely that future fine dining restaurants who follow these three will benefit too.

Georgetown still lags behind other “hot” neighborhoods in terms of buzz. And that might never change. But with these new places (not to mention the Sovereign) Georgetown is at least back on the map.

The Demise of the Cheap Suit Stores

Ten years ago, there were no fewer that ten “cheap suit” and/or jewelry stores on the 1400 block of Wisconsin Ave. These stores largely arrived in the early 1980s after the mall drew in a lot of the stores from the strip. Long lamented by residents, they defied all apparent rules of supply and demand. But in the last four to five years their hold has relinquished.

As of now there is only one store on this block selling cheap suits. All the other spaces that formerly held them are either empty or filled with another line of business.

Several of these buildings are caught a bit in a Catch-22. They are in such poor shape that higher paying tenants aren’t interested. But if the landlords put in the effort to renovate the property, it might still remain empty (like the space next to Tugooh Toys) because those same higher paying tenants don’t want to be next to the decaying properties that haven’t been fixed up yet.

Either way, love them or hate them, it will be a passing of an era when they are all finally closed.



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