Updated: Sep 26, 2021
Five years ago, officials extended a liquor license moratorium originally put in place in the Glover Park neighborhood in 1996. Though the 5-year extension was proposed and unopposed on June 24th 2016, the expiration date runs from the publishing of the Final Rulemaking in the DC Register, which occurred on February 17th, 2017. As a result, the prohibition on new Tavern and Nightclub licenses (i.e. “liquor with entertainment”) will expire on February 17th, 2022.
Glover Park is one of only four neighborhoods in Washington, DC with a liquor license moratorium. The other three are: western Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and Langdon in the far NE by the National Arboretum. Back in 1996, Glover Park’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC3B) submitted a resolution to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) to restrict the issuance of new liquor licenses. This moratorium was extended for three years at a time, and then again in 2012 for an additional three year period with modifications to allow two more restaurant licenses and allow unrestricted beer and wine retailing (grocery/convenience stores). Testimony was heard from two Glover Park restaurant owners in support of the moratorium – Paul Holder of Town Hall and Bill Thomas of Bourbon. Paul closed Town Hall two years ago in search of greener pastures and Bill has left Bourbon vacant and dilapidated for the past five years, while surrendering his Glover Park liquor license just a couple of weeks ago – a sign of giving up on the neighborhood, though the plans have not been disclosed yet. No new permits have been sought for renovation of 2348 Wisconsin and vacant property taxes have been imposed.
ANC3B offered these reasons for extending the moratorium back in 2012: peace and quiet, seeking a balance of businesses, parking and pedestrian safety and managing change. They argued that the moratorium had “provided stability and promoted commercial growth.” They further argued that Glover Park had become a destination for young single people to come and create disturbances late into the night and that establishments without an ABRA license are less of a problem. The argument for allowing more beer and wine retailing was that it would reduce commercial vacancy and people would take their alcohol elsewhere. The Glover Park Citizen’s Association supported the extension citing “the continued problems the neighborhood experiences with vandalism, beer bottle and cigarette butt litter, rowdy intoxicated individuals, public urination, and late night disturbances.”
After unprecedented, troubling and persistent commercial vacancies since 2012, ANC3B decided to allow new restaurant liquor licenses in the neighborhood without restriction during the review period for renewal of the moratorium in 2016. This removal of the restriction, though, did not apply to Tavern and Nightclub licenses – the most coveted because they allow for on-site entertainment by right. Nightclub (the least restrictive) allows live music and dancing, while Tavern allows recorded music and a small dance floor. As of today, the neighborhood has only one remaining live entertainment license – Good Guys strip club. The other, which was held by Mason Inn at 2408 Wisconsin (Grog and Tankard years back) was surrendered after they folded and the building has remained vacant now for three years. The lack of entertainment-based licenses has required restaurants to request “entertainment endorsements” piecemeal, with a drawn-out review process by the ANC3B, the public and ABRA, much scrutiny and a lack of consistency in the approval process, which is subject to objections from individuals who are aware of the rules and know how to make their voice heard. In total, the neighborhood currently has 20 liquor licenses with 17 active and three in “safekeeping” status (not used right now but not surrendered either).
Since 2016, Glover Park has experienced a welcome reduction in commercial vacancies, though stubborn restaurant and retail space vacancies persist: former Mason Inn building (3 years), the dilapidated shell of Bourbon (5 years), Heritage India space (4 years), former Surfside building (2 years), former Rite Aid space (3 years). The reality of the current environment is that restaurants now cannot thrive by alcohol alone, but need to bring in patrons with entertainment options if feasible. A number of Glover Park’s venues have worked and would work well for in-person entertainment, even if only for a tame “trivia hour” yet even such a muted endeavor requires a review period and approval with the ANC, the public, and ABRA without an entertainment license.
Now, establishments have the opportunity to get their CT, DT, CX and DX license (Tavern and Nightclub, with or without the sale of spirits) applications in for approval on February 17th, 2022 and get those live bands and dance floors set up and bring back all those rowdy, intoxicated singles taking parking spaces, causing disturbances and upsetting the balance. Yet, is there a way to manage bringing patrons back to Glover Park without all that negativity, and without the restrictions that have been imposed on establishments and limited business opportunity for the past 20 years? You can bet the debate will open up again soon now that we all are getting back to business and the moratorium deadline looms…