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The hottest battle of NIMBYs vs. businesses this year came down to six Dupont Circle residents and 20 patio seats at Hank’s Oyster Bar. Alcohol Beverage Control investigators forced the restaurant to shut part of its patio amid a dispute over the termination of its voluntary agreement with neighbors. Chef/owner Jamie Leeds’ resulting crusade for liquor-law reform fueled debate over how much power small groups should have over the operations of nearby restaurants and bars.
Hank’s initially sought to eliminate its voluntary agreement, which limited hours and expansion, in 2010, so it could build into the space next door. Liquor authorities and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission agreed. But a group of six neighbors believed the liquor board acted illegally in terminating it. They took the case to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which reversed the decision. So a liquor board investigator forced the restaurant to close its patio the evening before the Capital Pride Parade, one of its busiest days of the year.
But Leeds fought back. She posted an open letter on the restaurant’s website, calling on supporters to contact the D.C. Council. The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, which rarely backs an individual restaurant’s case, also asked local legislators to take a closer look at the rules governing protests against liquor licenses. Three months later, authorities reaffirmed the termination of the voluntary agreement, allowing Hank’s to have its full patio back. And by December, the Council was voting on liquor-law reform proposals.