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The team behind Bardo Brew Pub has had enough with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABRA) and has filed a lawsuit against the District agency. ABRA continues to block Bardo River Brewery from opening in full across from Nationals Park at 25 Potomac Ave. SE, and owner Bill Stewart says the agency is unfairly weighing “ex parte communications” in doing so. The parties fighting against the brewery and beer garden? The Washington Nationals and the relevant Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC).
“The biggest problem is they’re breaking all kinds of rules,” Stewart says about ABRA’s communications with the brewery’s opponents. “If you got something to say, you have to say it in front of the judge. You can’t meet with the judge at the golf course and say let’s screw this guy.”
Under D.C. law, applications for manufacturer’s licenses and on-site consumption permits are considered uncontested, so no party other than the applicant is entitled to be heard. ABRA can hold fact-finding hearings, but only a party to an application proceeding can call witnesses. The trouble started with such a meeting on Aug. 10. Stewart says a non-party Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner was allowed to testify. When Stewart asked that they play by the rules, an ABRA board member responded aggressively, according to the lawsuit:
“If you believe you’re going to tell the board how the board can act, than I will gladly be four out of the five board members that you have sued, and so you go to superior court. We can adjourn this. You can go to court, file a complaint and let the court tell us what to do.”
Through the Freedom of Information Act, Stewart obtained a copy of a letter Nationals Vice President for Community Engagement Gregory McCarthy sent to ABRA Chairman Donovan Anderson that cites pedestrian safety, parking congestion, and “overall public order” as reasons why the brewery and tasting room shouldn’t be allowed to open. (See the full letter below).
“That’s ex parte communications right there,” Stewart says. “They’re sending letters to the ABRA board and the ABRA board is reading it. They should have sent it back, said this is ex parte communications. Same with the ANC. They’re sending stuff to them and they’re reading it and coming to me and saying, ‘Bill, how about you close at 10 p.m.’ I’m like, ‘Where did you get that fucking idea from?’ Maybe it’s because the ANC sent you a letter.”
An ABRA spokesperson says the agency does not comment on contested cases or ongoing litigation, noting that there will be a contested fact-finding hearing Nov. 16. Stewart doesn’t think the hearing or any contested case proceedings “will see the light of day once the court steps in.”
Through the lawsuit, Bardo River Brewery is asking the court to immediately issue both its manufacturing license and its on-site sales and consumption permit without any further restrictions, allowing the brewery and tasting room to open as planned. (As of now, Bardo is only making beer there.)
Barred in D.C. has been chronicling this story. A truncated version of the lawsuit is below.