Tag Archives: ABRA

Liquor License Gold Rush On Again!

As first reported by the Washington Business Journal yesterday, the ABC board is about to release four liquor licenses into the Georgetown moratorium zone. And one of them will be the coveted tavern licenses. But we’ve been down this path recently, and the result may leave many disappointed.


The heart of Georgetown is covered by a moratorium on new liquor licenses. There can be no more than 68 in total, including the inactive licenses being held “in safe keeping”. This moratorium has been in place since 1989, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be removed any time soon.

There are benefits and drawbacks to the moratorium (that GM has written about here). But the primary impact is that if you want to open a new restaurant in Georgetown, you have to buy one of the inactive licenses on the secondary market. GM has heard from establishments that paid around $90,000 to buy one. This is a significant disincentive for new restaurants in Georgetown.

The Last Gold Rush

Several years ago when the moratorium was being renewed, ABRA and the ANC worked together to make seven new licenses available. This was an acknowledgement of the problem described above. It was hoped that quality restaurants would take the opportunity to snatch up the virtually free licenses.

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Two New Liquor Licenses Demonstrate Failed Policy


In June of 2010, ABRA released seven new liquor licenses into the Georgetown moratorium zone. This move was done to inject some life back into the Georgetown restaurant scene. Two years later, though, and we can see this was a failed policy.

There were several justifications given for adding licenses to the moratorium limit. On top of a desire to inject some life, the powers that be realized that since the beginning of the moratorium in Georgetown, seven licenses had been canceled. So we could add seven without exceeding the total that existed at the time the moratorium was created. Also, there was a recognition that getting a liquor license was a strong disincentive to new restaurants opening in Georgetown. Due to the moratorium, they were forced to buy the license off one of the license holders who were no longer using theirs. The going price for a license was in the high five figures. This action would provide new licenses without that ridiculous mark-up.

Seven entities jumped on the new licenses. However, this is what happened with them:

  • Bills Bar and Burger – Was supposed to go into the old Philadelphia Cheesesteak Factory building. Never did.
  • Zenobia Lounge – Coffee shop wanted to sell liquor. After obtaining license, they decided they didn’t want to live with the restrictions so they stopped selling liquor.
  • Tacklebox – Jonathan Umbel had been trying for years to get a liquor license for this restaurant. He finally did.
  • Puro Cafe – Another restaurant that was already open.
  • Hu’s Wear – The owners of Hu’s Shoes said they wanted to open a restaurant where Bartleby Books used to be. The bookstore was kicked out; the restaurant never moved in.
  • International House of Ping Pong – This was supposed to be a ping pong-themed restaurant in 1010 Wisconsin Ave. It never opened.
  • Paul Bakery – This restaurant was planned but not opened when they obtained the license.

So three restaurants were already open and one was going to open regardless. Three never opened. And of the three that never opened, despite never once selling a single beer, the owners still get to keep the licenses for as long as they pay the annual fee (Zenobia’s owners also get to keep their license). At around $1,000, it’s not a trivial annual fee but it’s a small price to pay to maintain an asset that could be worth up to $100,000 to the right buyer. Continue reading


Filed under Restaurants

What Bars Could Take Advantage of a Later Last Call Law

Yesterday, GM mentioned how the Mayor recently proposed to change the last call rules in DC to allow bars to serve alcohol to 3 am on weekdays and 4 am on weekends. GM briefly mentioned that a lot of Georgetown restaurants and bars wouldn’t be able to take advantage of that change since so many of them are subject to voluntary agreements that restrict the hours they may stay open, not withstanding what the law allows.

But some restaurants and bars aren’t subject to a voluntary agreement. Who are those establishments? This very question was answered in January 2009 when the city allowed bars to stay open till 4:00 AM over inauguration weekend. At that time, GM determined that the following establishments weren’t subject to a voluntary agreement:

  • Cafe Bonaparte
  • Don Lobos
  • Georgetown Inn (may include Daily Grill)
  • La Chaumiere
  • Mendocino
  • Mei N Yu
  • Miss Saigon
  • News Cafe (now Thunder Burger)
  • Taj of India
  • Tombs
  • Additi (now closed) Continue reading

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Hey Restaurateurs: There are Some Georgetown Liquor Licenses Available

Georgetown has a moratorium on new liquor licenses. So unlike the rest of the city (with the exception of the other moratorium zones) a restaurant or bar that wants to open up in Georgetown can’t simply go downtown, apply for a new liquor license, and pay a small fee. Rather, a new Georgetown restaurant or bar needs to buy an existing license off the secondary market. And for all intents and purposes, that means buying one of the licenses that are held by restaurants or bars no longer in business. The going rate for these licenses has reported to be as high as $75,000.

This barrier to entry has been frequently cited by restaurateurs as a significant reason not to open a restaurant in Georgetown. But GM’s hear to say: act now and this won’t be a problem!

You see, last year the ABC Board authorized the issuance of seven new liquor licenses in Georgetown. This was done partially in acknowledgement that since the moratorium was put in place, at least seven liquor licenses had left Georgetown, so the number of available licenses was actually lower than when the moratorium was put in place. Additionally, there was a sense that Geogetown’s restaurant scene has grown a little stale and that new licenses might inject a little blood back into the scene. Continue reading


Filed under ABRA, Restaurants

Catching Up On Those New Liquor Licenses

Way back in June of last year, the city added seven new liquor licenses to the Georgetown moratorium cap. The idea was to address a perception that good restaurants were avoiding opening shop in Georgetown because the cost to buy an outstanding license was too high. Moreover, since about seven licenses had be forfeited since the moratorium was originally put in place, adding seven back to the mix would only bring us back to the original level.

So once those license spots became available, they were quickly snatched up by the following places:

  • Puro Cafe,
  • Tacklebox
  • Zenobia Lounge
  • Paul Bakery
  • Bill’s Bar and Burger
  • Hu’s Wear

GM was wondering recently what happened with all those licenses. His curiosity coincided with a new liquor license application, whose provenance GM was confused over. But first to the seven licenses: Continue reading


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ANC Preview: 7-11 Edition

Photo by Thisisbossi.

Next Tuesday (NOTE THE DAY CHANGE DUE TO HALLOWEEN), ANC2E will meet for its November session. One thing you may not know about ANC meetings if you don’t attend them is that normally the most interesting stuff is right at the beginning. And this month, that rule continues to apply.

This month, in this slot are two developments that have grabbed attention recently: the 7-11 expansion and the West Heating Plant.

GM’s not sure what the ANC is going to have to say about either of the two items. The 7-11 doesn’t sell alcohol and isn’t subject to a voluntary agreement, so it’s not like it needs approval to expand into the P St. It will ultimately need OGB review for whatever signage or awnings they ask for, but that’s probably not what the ANC wants to talk about now. Either way, could be interesting.

As for the West Heating Plant, this is something a bit more in the ANC’s wheelhouse. They probably just want to make the public aware the the GSA is planning to sell it. GM’s heard nothing about any possible bidders, but it’s still early.

Another early treat: DC U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen and two of his AUSAs will speak. Last month: the Mayor. This month: the U.S. Attorney. How can they top this in December?

Among the other items, only one jumps out at GM as being potentially interesting. A new restaurant called M Cafe has applied for a liquor license. They propose to be located at 3236 Prospect St. Here’s what the application says:

Contemporary bistro serving Italian food and cuisine, including salads and desserts.  No Entertainment provided. Sidewalk Cafe with 50 seats. Seating capacity is 120. Total occupancy load is 140.

The outdoor cafe part of the plan sounds like it could be controversial, since Prospect street is one of those battleground streets where bars and neighbors are seemingly always battling each other. Look for round one to start at the meeting. Continue reading

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ANC Roundup: Keep It Down Edition

Photo by Ian Quantis.

Last night, the ANC met for its February session. All in all it was quite a snooze-fest. However, one item was of particular interest to the crowd: noise.

Don’t Bring the Noise

At the top of the meeting, MPD Lieutenant Hedgecock gave his ordinary monthly public safety session. He was quick to trumpet that there was not one mugging in Georgetown in all of January. Which is great, but he probably jinxed the perfect month by mentioning it. Either way, the meat of his presentation was on a new law that came into effect today. It reworks the city’s disturbing the peace laws to state that it is an arrestable offense to create a noise “likely to annoy or disturb” between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am. It is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or $500.

This obviously piqued the interest of the ANC and the crowd. They were quick to see it as a panacea to all the neighborhood’s noise problems. This is because it is enormously arbitrary. All the police officer needs to do is to determine that a noise is “likely to annoy or disturb.” He doesn’t even need to have a complaining witness.

GM sees a couple potential problems with this law. First of all, it requires a cop to actually arrest someone to enforce it. That’s a dramatic step that a lot of police officers might not want to take when simply dealing with some rowdy partiers. Second, while a police officer doesn’t need a complaining witness, he does need to witness the noise himself. So he needs to actually see the pack of noisy revelers walk by, you can’t phone it in.

Finally, it’s an awfully vague law. Disturbing the peace laws have frequently been used for undesirable or unjust ends. For instance, it was for disturbing the peace that Henry L. Gates was arrested in the wake of “breaking into” his own home. GM doesn’t necessarily think this law will result in such an outcome, but the arbitrariness of the law makes him a little queasy.

Maybe if GM could read the law he’d feel more comfortable, but he couldn’t find it when he looked. Update: Here it is.

Transportation Block

The ANC considered a block of transportation matters. First it considered the possibility of adding a leading left arrow to the south Safeway exit. Right now the exit displays a red light while pedestrians cross Wisconsin. Since there is no crosswalk to the south of the exit, it is reasoned that a left turn ought to be allowed. Makes sense to GM, although the ANC also complained about the shortness of the cycle allowing pedestrians to cross the exit itself. Right now while the cars are sitting waiting to exit while pedestrians cross Wisconsin, no pedestrians are allowed to cross in front of the cars. Arguably, rather than allowing a leading left turn, it would be better to simply allow pedestrians to cross the exit while they also can cross Wisconsin. The ANC, however, didn’t see it this way and passed a resolution asking DDOT to consider the leading left turn and whether the pedestrian phase to cross the exit couldn’t be lengthened.

Second, the ANC considered whether the very bottom of Thomas Jefferson St. couldn’t be made two way. The idea is that there is a Colonial garage about halfway up the block from K St. When cars exit that garage they have no choice but to head up to M and contribute to the traffic problem. Having seen that block of TJ St. work as a two way street during the bridge construction, the ANC would like to make enough of the street two way to allow cars to leave the garage and head down to K St. Continue reading


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ANC Round Up: Good PR Edition

DC Triathlon by Arjubx.

Once more unto the triathabreach!

Last night the ANC met for its first session for the futuristically sounding year 2011. And pretty much right at the top of the agenda was a resumption of the dispute over triathlons in Georgetown.

For those of you who missed it last month, the ANC demanded to know how much the for-profit enterprise that runs the DC Triathlon (and the Nations Triathlon) donates to charity. In particular they wanted to know roughly what percentage of the event’s revenues went to charity. The owner of the company, Charles Brodsky, refused to answer the question, so the ANC told him to come back when he could.

Skip to last night. Representatives of the triathlon, Molly Quinn and Jill Hansen (Brodsky wasn’t there), talked up the merits of the organization that benefits from the charity (which they also run) called Achieve Kids Tri. As part of the presentation, Quinn asked a little girl named Eliza Bowling to come up and give a speech about her experiences with Achieve and how it helped her fight her own childhood obesity.

It was a move of brilliant audience misdirection. Why? Because Bowling had the crowd in her hand talking about how she has already run several triathlons and dropped her BMI significantly. She was great and GM congratulates her on her achievements and her skillful public speaking. But it was almost completely irrelevant. Nobody doubted the merit of the recipient of the charity. That wasn’t the question. The question was whether that recipient was getting enough of the money flowing through the event to justify turning over a public good to a private enterprise. Continue reading


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ANC Round Up: The Remains of the Agenda

As GM mentioned yesterday, Monday night’s ANC meeting was so long that GM was left with no time to write up the whole meeting in time for yesterday. So here’s what you missed:


Sgt. Hedgecock came by for his monthly report and bore bad news. Georgetown has been struck recently with a spike in muggings, mostly of the iPhone variety. Some robbers are snatching it right out of people’s hands, but some have taken a more violent approach by simply knocking the victims on the ground. This happened twice two weekends ago.

And then of course there was the brazen bank heist on September 30th, which Hedgecock compared to the move “Heat.”

GM will have more on the crime numbers later this week, but the message sent by MPD is mostly two-fold: they’ve changing up their patrols to pay more attention to Sunday through Thursday–when a lot of these crimes occurred–and they’re encouraging residents to not waive their iPhones around. That’s all well and good, but GM hopes they have opportunity to announce some arrests soon.

Meet the New ANC Commissioners, Mostly the Same as the Old ANC Commissioners

Monday night, the ANC gave over the floor to the two candidates to replace the departing commissioners, Aaron Golds and Bill Skelsey. Jeffrey Jones is running to replace Skelsey and Jake Sticka is running to replace Golds.

The one thing that struck GM about their speeches wasn’t so much what they had to say, but rather that this will be yet another two years of an entirely male commission. What’s particularly odd about that is that just about every other Georgetown civic group is disproportionately run by women. For instance, look at CAG’s board, only three of the eleven members are men. GM doesn’t think the ANC is sexist or anything, but it’s just a little odd, don’t you think? Continue reading

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More on Those Two New Liquor Licenses

Last week GM reported the news that on top of the seven newly minted liquor licenses being issued to Georgetown establishments, two additional licenses that were held-in-safe-keeping were going to be also issued. The news was announced at the September ANC meeting by none other that ABRA head Fred Moosally. This is what GM had to say about the two applicants:

  • Come To Eat – ABRA Director Fred Moosally was at the meeting last night. He spoke briefly about the moratorium and revealed that two licenses that were held in safe keeping were released. One of them will likely go to a restaurant called Come to Eat to be located in the mall. No details on what that would look like.
  • Ma Maison – More excitingly, Moosally mentioned that the other license would likely go to a restaurant called Ma Maison, which would move into the old Hibiscus Cafe space on Water Street. GM could have misheard it, but he swears Moosally said that the same family behind Cafe Bonaparte would also run this restaurant.

GM was a bit wrong on each of these. Continue reading


Filed under ABRA, ANC