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For a tiny tavern, Timehri International in Adams Morgan has a rather massive sound system, which might help explain why the venue is so often nominated for “Best Reggae Club Jam” honors at D.C.’s Annual Reggae Music Awards. At the DJ booth near the back of the intimate 48-person-capacity, obligatory–Bob Marley–poster–adorned basement bar on 18th Street NW, hefty speaker cabinets are stacked high against the wall, close to the ceiling.
Maybe a bit too close. When the beat starts really thumping down at Timehri, upstairs at Shake Your Booty, all sorts of booty is literally shaking—sometimes even shattering: jewelry display cases, picture frames, glass pedestals, telephones. “You name it, we’ve had it break,” says Kathy Amoroso, owner of the ladies’ footwear and accessories shop.
For years, Amoroso has complained to the building’s owners about the “constant vibration” coming from the bar below. She tells S&T that the tremors have cost her shop an estimated $100 to $120 a month in fallen, damaged goods, including three phones. In a March 2003 letter to bar operator Patrice Adams, the building’s then-owner, Dominick Cardella, demanded a “slight lowering of the volume, especially the base,” calling the volume of Timehri’s reggae sounds “too high.” Yet despite all the grumbling about the rumbling, Amoroso says, her downstairs neighbor has since done very little, if anything, to buffer the wattage.
Adams says he’s “not intentionally setting out to break her stuff up.” He says he’s turned the tunes down a bit, but the music is inherently moving. “The reggae carries the bass with it,” he says.
Of course, the bass has never been the only issue at Timehri. There’s also the violence. According to reports by police and the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA): In October 2000, a 24-year-old Alexandria man was hospitalized after being “struck in the head with a beer bottle” at the venue and, while on the ground, kicked “over and over again.” The next spring, some other guy got hit in the head with a brick, allegedly by a Timehri security guard, after being ejected for reportedly “smoking marijuana in the bathroom.” In April 2002, a 22-year-old Hyattsville man endured multiple stab wounds at Timehri—after which Adams saw his liquor license temporarily suspended. And in November 2004, a female patron was allegedly slashed with a box cutter. That same month, a male customer was reportedly punched by a bouncer after his female companion sat down at “a table that is reserved for the owner and employees of the establishment” and refused to relinquish her seat. Then, in February, an ejected patron allegedly attacked a bouncer with a knife.
But it wasn’t the reports of bloodshed that seemed to bother the building’s next landlord, Dean Sirulnik, whose 2439 LLC bought the building from Cardella in April 2003—it was the loud bass. “I am sure the noise and vibration levels will affect my ability to sell,” Sirulnik wrote in a letter to local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bryan Weaver later that year. By that time, Sirulnik wasn’t hearing from only the folks picking up the pieces of damaged merchandise at Shake Your Booty. “I have also received complaints from my residential tenants regarding the noise level,” the landlord claimed in his letter, which further indicates that Sirulnik once “lowered the rent” on a third-floor apartment “to compensate for any future complaints.”
Sirulnik had appealed to Adams not only to turn the music down at Timehri but also to move his electronics away from the walls and ceiling and perhaps even install “some type of acoustical material…to reduce the noise and vibration,” according to the letter. But the landlord didn’t really expect much in the way of “voluntary action” by tavern management, the letter said. (Adams says any soundproofing should be the landlord’s responsibility.) “I will take legal action if necessary,” Sirulnik wrote. He eventually sold the property for a reported $1,785,000 in 2004. A representative for current building owner Mala Stieglitz tells S&T, “We’re aware of this issue, and we’re looking into it.”
As landlords have come and gone at 2439 18th St. NW, Timehri has kept on jammin’.
The sunsplash melodies emerging from the tavern drew two “investigative reports” from ABRA in 2005. Liquor-control officials don’t usually do decibel readings, so ABRA agents had to rely on their ears to determine the infractions. The resounding problem at Timehri, according to ABRA, breaks a written pact that Adams signed with his neighbors to prevent “emissions of sound, capable of being heard outside the premises, by any instrument or amplification device.”
This past June, ABRA investigator LaRoy Coleman confronted the bar owner about the ongoing emissions. Standing outside the tavern, Adams “acknowledged that he could hear the music,” according to Coleman’s report. But Adams asserted that adjusting the knobs just wasn’t necessary; he blamed a broken plexiglass window for allowing the sound to escape. “Mr. Adams indicated he would get the window fixed,” the report states. The next day, the inspector returned to Timehri. “Again music could be heard emanating from the same plexiglas window,” Coleman noted. The next month, the inspector came back again: “[T]he window still had not been replaced.” Again in August, no repairs. The same went for Coleman’s fifth visit, in September.
If Adams seems reluctant to rush a remedy, the same could be said for city regulators. The District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board has been in no hurry to rule on the Timehri case—much to some neighbors’ dismay—as a year’s worth of reported ABC violations at the place have piled up. Last week, the board finally began taking testimony on the incidents dating back to last November. The panel had previously postponed a Sept. 7 hearing on Timehri in order to take up other cases. But with five separate Timehri-related investigations on the table, the ABC Board didn’t set aside enough time on Nov. 16 to get to all of them. The hearing will resume on Dec. 14.
But why should the booze cops have to regulate noise, too? The city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), after all, is supposed to have inspectors who prowl the town with decibel meters. Sure, those guys take lots of sound measurements. But they rarely do much enforcing. As DCRA Deputy Director of Compliance and Enforcement Leila Franklin told D.C. Council’s Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on Nov. 2, the agency conducted 246 noise inspections in fiscal year 2005. But she knew of only three citations.
Given the inability of overseeing agencies and building owners to broker some type of abatement at her location, Amoroso is left looking for an alternative solution. Like relocating. “If I could get out of my lease easily, I would,” she says. CP
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