At a triple-fire-emoji Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration Policy Committee meeting Wednesday night, Dacha Beer Garden owners Dmitri Chekaldin and Ilya Alter presented their plans for a new 600-person capacity location at 14th and S Streets NW. They currently operate a smaller beer garden nearby in Shaw.
In their presentation to gathered neighbors, ANC commissioners, and APC members, the Dacha owners addressed how they will handle lines, rodents, trash, and smoking. But those who later lobbed questions were dissatisfied by the lack of information about security, pedestrian safety, hours of operations, and music.
The meeting came as plans for Dacha’s 14th Street location are beginning to take shape, starting with the proposed idea of adding a playground, presumably so that children can romp while their parents tug on boots of beer. Then there’s the fact that part of the beer garden won’t be a beer garden at all. In addition to the outdoor spaces, there will be an indoor bar that was originally slated to be under a tent. And the food menu will be similar to the existing Dacha Beer Garden in Shaw.
Owners Chekaldin and Alter filled out their liquor license for a maximum capacity of 600 people at the new location. That includes an indoor area with room for 250, a sidewalk cafe with room for 60, and a beer garden that can hold 170. (See draft renderings below.) These numbers don’t add up to 600 because the co-owners applied for the highest possible number using square footage calculations to play things safe after repeatedly exceeding capacity at their Shaw location.
Paneling and hedging will be used to separate the business from the street and to mitigate sound, according to the restaurant’s sound engineer Martin Beam. “As long as you can block line of sight, you’ll lower the sound getting out, but it will also change the character of the sound so you won’t hear conversation,” Beam says. “It becomes more distant, more like hubbub. What’s distracting is when you can hear and understand someone.”
But as one neighbor put it, in a meeting that required a reminder to “be respectful,” no paneling and no hedges will prevent you from hearing 600 people.
APC member David Ansell presented concerns about safety. Chekaldin and Alter say they haven’t experienced security problems involving customers such as fights, and thus they don’t employ traditional “bouncers.” Rather, they have managers who walk the perimeter, as well as “friendly guards,” as the owners call them, who are trained to greet customers and recently attended anti-terrorism meetings.
Ansell said, “I don’t know too many terrorists that are looking to blow up Dacha, but there might be some neighbors.”
One neighbor who lives on S Street NW, Joyce Cowan, suggested that Chekaldin and Alter didn’t come to the meeting prepared or “in good faith.” Another neighbor, Soochon Radee, said: “We already have a beer garden, it’s already loud, and this one is going to be at least two or three times bigger.” Radee is referring to Garden District directly across the street. Radee then produced a petition with 50 signatures against the current Dacha Beer Garden plans.
Ultimately, the ABRA Policy Committee for ANC 2F decided that it would protest the current plans. The full ANC will meet in June to vote.
Chekaldin says he was prepared to meet with resistance tonight. “This is a process,” he says. “This protest, the commission did their job. They’re leveraging their constituents and we are fully engaged with them. I hope that the neighbors will communicate to them coherently what their concerns are and we’ll continue to work with them.”
“People are afraid of change, they’re afraid of change when they’re not in control,” Alter adds. “It’s good to have this dialogue so we can understand their concerns. We want to run our business and not be a nuisance in the neighborhood.”
Dacha Beer Garden, 1740 14th St. NW; dachadc.com