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To get a license from the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), an applicant must prove that he or she is the true owner of the business, doesn’t owe back taxes, and hasn’t been charged with or convicted of a felony in the past 10 years. Those are the basic rules. But a potential licensee also has to pass muster with a stricter authority than the liquor board: the neighbors.

Before a liquor license can be issued, renewed, transferred, or substantially changed, there is a 60-day period in which a direct neighbor, a group of three or more neighborhood residents, or a neighborhood group such as an advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) may protest the license. To clear any roadblock from a community group, a retail establishment signs a “voluntary agreement” with the group, outlining additional conditions that the business must meet. Those rules then become stipulations of the license, which ABRA can enforce.

Many of the pacts cover ordinary nuisance concerns, keeping establishments from being too big, too loud, or too messy. Particular neighborhood groups have their own ground rules: The Adams Morgan ANC always asks that applicants not participate in pub crawls; the Mount Pleasant ANC requires bars on its turf to ban “go cups.” But the license restrictions are also rife with more narrowly tailored provisions—terms that can be cryptic, demanding, or outright hostile.

In neighborhoods such as Georgetown and Dupont Circle, where there are moratoriums on new licenses, a new business must pick up an old license to be able to serve alcohol. The old voluntary agreements come with it: Swank nightclub Modern, which inherited a sports bar’s license, is prohibited from staging wet-T-shirt contests.

“You have community groups that are in effect rewriting the liquor law for every new establishment, and they’re writing their own rules rather than working within the law,” says Frederic Harwood, chair of night-life-activist group Committee for a Living D.C.

“We don’t use voluntary agreements to coerce anything,” says Vince Micone, chair of the Dupont Circle ANC, which brokered 14 voluntary agreements from the 146 liquor-license issues that came under its purview in 2002. “I think we have had good experiences in resolving neighborhood issues locally, and I think we have used that power judiciously.”

As of March 31, 2003, ABRA listed 402 of these agreements between neighborhood groups and licensees, with most coming from Wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. Some highlights from the liquor board’s files:

Ward 1

Bedrock Billiards

1841 Columbia Road NW

Protestant: ANC 1C

Applicant will actively inform patrons that they may bring food into the premises for consumption.

Applicant will not provide a dance area nor allow patrons to move furniture to create a dance area. Applicant will discourage all dancing.

Cafe Toulouse

2431 18th St. NW

Protestant: ANC 1C

Licensee shall maintain the mural of Toulouse Latrec [sic] on the face of its establishment.

Don Jaime’s

3209 Mount Pleasant St. NW

Protestant: Mount Pleasant

Neighborhood Alliance

Licensee will not sell or deliver alcoholic beverages to any intoxicated person, or to any person of intemperate habits or to any person who appears to be intoxicated. A person of intemperate habits shall be defined as any person arrested by the Metropolitan Police for any

alcohol-related crime three times or more in any one year, or for whom an ambulance has responded for an alcohol-related condition, regardless of whether that person was transported.

Mezè

2437 18th St. NW

Protestant: Kalorama Citizens Association

Applicant may feature live music under the following conditions:

(1) Rap, Go-Go, Hip-Hop and Rock will not be featured…

(3) Up to four instruments may be used, with the opportunity to feature a fifth instrument one day per week.

Tryst

2459 18th St. NW

Protestant: Kalorama Citizens Association

Applicant request is for a “jazz trio” and he hereby promises to limit performances to three musicians in that format.

Ward 2

Apex

1415 22nd St. NW

Protestant: ANC 2B

Applicant shall not permit any dancing by performers, or entertainers (although dancing in conjunction with vocal singing or lip-synchronized performances may be permitted).

Basil Thai Restaurant

1608 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Protestant: ANC 2E, citizen

All signage on the front of the building will be removed except for the mounted white letters on the brick facade specifically approved by the Commission of Fine Arts, the window trim and door will be painted black, the upper-floor window frames will be painted black, the separate sign mounted on the facade will be removed, the neon “open” sign will be removed, the painted lettering on the window’s face will be removed.

Brigadoon’s

1329 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Protestant: citizens

Applicants’ food operations will start as a sandwich-type menu, but will expand to basic restaurant food.

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Applicant will not use the trade name: “George-Toons.”

(License not in use)

Mercury Grill

1602 17th St. NW

Protestant: ANC 2B, Dupont Circle Citizens Association, citizen

Applicant will not advertise with tour companies or tour buses.

Smith Point

1338 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Protestant: ANC 2E

The Applicant shall present no form of entertainment other than recorded contemporary music.

Dragonfly

1215 Connecticut Ave. NW

Protestant: ANC 2B

Applicant agrees that it will have food available for service to its patrons up to two hours before closing. Food shall not be limited to snacks, such as potato chips, pretzels, etc., but shall include sushi. If in the future they change the menu, they will offer hot food or prepared food such as sushi during this period.

Mermaids

1824 Half St. SW

Protestant: citizens

Applicant will use its best efforts to discourage its customers from driving through adjacent residential streets to or from the Club, and also from driving noisily (e.g. with radios at a high volume) or a high rate of speed through adjacent residential streets.

Applicant will keep the exterior areas adjacent to the Club clean and litter free, and shall use its best efforts to encourage its customers to keep the areas adjacent to the Club free of litter such as beer cans, bottles and other waste materials related to the Applicant’s operation on days when Applicant is open for business. (“Litter” as mentioned in this Agreement will not include grossly unrelated refuse such as mattresses, scrap metal, tires, furniture, abandoned machinery, etc.) (“Areas adjacent to the Club” means a radius of 200 feet from the Club.)

(License revoked in October 2002.)

Garrett’s Restaurant

3003 M St. NW

Protestant: Citizen’s Association of Georgetown, citizen

APPLICANT shall maintain its kitchen, service, and other staff at such level that it will continue to provide food of the kind and quality that was cited in the Phyllis Richman review of APPLICANT in the Washington Post.

All of APPLICANT’s advertisements and promotional material will emphasize the service of food and the quality of the food service.

Green Lantern

1335 Green Court NW

Protestant: ANC 2F, Thomas House

Applicant shall not have live music with the exception of karaoke.

The Mansion on O Street

2020 O St. NW

Protestant: ANC 2B

The Applicant shall serve alcoholic beverages on not more than 208 days per calendar year.

Nite Cap Cafe

1428 L St. NW

Protestant: ANC 2F, citizen

NITE CAP CAFE will take all legal measures necessary to make the establishment unattractive to persons whose primary purpose for being in the area is to facilitate illegal activities.

Pagoda of Georgetown

1734 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Protestant: ANC 2E, citizen

The Applicant agrees that children of the Applicant and/or applicant’s employees shall not be permitted to play in the public alley without adult supervision.

(License not in use)

Peacock Cafe

3251 Prospect St. NW

Protestant: Citizens Association

of Georgetown

Demarcation of the outer boundaries of the approved sidewalk cafe shall be evidenced by metal spikes inserted flush to the sidewalk.

Pizzeria Paradiso

2029 P St. NW

Protestant: ANC 2B

Applicant will prohibit its employees and vendors from playing music and banging pots and pans outside…

Hotel Rouge

1315 16th St. NW

Protestant: ANC 2B, citizens

All contracts between Applicant and tour companies or bus companies will contain a clause forbidding parking or idling by buses in excess of 15 minutes anywhere within the Dupont Circle or Logan Circle area, where such parking is illegal….If Applicant determines that buses parking or idling in the 1300 block of 16th Street, have deposited guests at other hotels, Applicant will make a good faith effort to determine where the guests have been deposited and will contact these hotels to inform them of the illegal parking or idling and request their removal. If the location of the guests or driver can not be determined the Applicant will notify the Metropolitan Police of the problem.

Modern

3287 M St. NW

Protestant: Citizens Association of

Georgetown

APPLICANT will not sponsor or otherwise allow on the premises of the Establishment wet T-shirt contests, or events in the nature of “beefcake” contests or “cheesecake” contests. APPLICANT will not employ a “barker” or engage in any practice outside the premises which encourages passers-by to enter.

Uni A Sushi Place

2122 P St. NW

Protestant: ANC 2B

All food and drinks shall be purchased from a waiter by patrons sitting down; no one standing will be served food or drinks.

Ward 3

Buon Appetito

5105 MacArthur Blvd. NW

Protestant: ANC 3D

In order to minimize disruption to the immediate neighborhood, Buon Appetito will undertake such reasonable measures as are required to prevent neighborhood nuisances by employees, purveyors or patrons in the environs of the premises…including…repairing or cleaning of vehicles…

Busara

2340 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Protestant: ANC 3B

On or before July 1, 2000, Busara will terminate the activity known as “Typhoon Club”; subsequent to July 1, 2000, Busara will not conduct any activity similar to “Typhoon Club” at the licensed premises.

Listrani’s Restaurant

5100 MacArthur Blvd. NW

Protestant: ANC 3D

Listrani’s employees…shall be prohibited from parking in the following locations…in front of 5041 and 5043 Dana Place, N.W….

In order to minimize disruption to the immediate neighborhood, Listrani’s shall undertake such measures as are required to prevent neighborhood nuisances including the loud playing of music, honking of horns, loitering (including, but not limited to, eating, drinking, littering, smoking, partying, picnicking, inappropriate display of affection, and urinating), illegal operation of vehicles, repairing, washing or polishing of vehicles, or other forms of disruptive or inappropriate conduct on the part of Listrani’s employees or persons associated with employees including, but not limited to, friends and family members, and repair/maintenance workers, salespeople, and vendors.

A first offense of any of the prohibitions of Paragraphs 3, 6, 7 will be punished by Listrani’s suspension of the subject employee for the employee’s next three (3) work shifts.

Yanÿu

3435 Connecticut Ave. NW

Protestant: ANC 3C

Applicant agrees that it will sell beer and wine, and use alcohol only in the preparation of mixed specialty drinks, such as daiquiris, margaritas, pina colada, but not including drinks such as scotch and soda, seven and seven, bourbon and ginger ale, vodka and tonic.

Ward 4

Takoma Station Tavern

6914 4th St. NW

Protestant: Watkins Condominium

Association

Takoma Station shall ensure that these telephone lines are answered by either a human being or a telephone recording device…

Ward 5

Johnny K’s

3514 12th St. NE

Protestant: The Catholic University

of America

Applicant will employ doormen who are 21 years of age or older and are not currently enrolled at Catholic University.

Ward 6

Heart & Soul Cafe

801 Pennsylvania Ave. SE

Protestant: citizens

The music format of Heart & Soul shall include “live easy listening jazz, poetry, dinner music” and an occasional DJ playing only easy listening jazz and dinner music; Additionally, a live R&B band/DJ may appear on one weekend night only. R&B does not include “gangsta” rap, any music with profanity and go go music. In addition, the Applicant shall not permit the following bands to play on the premises:

1. The Junkyard Band

2. Trouble Funk

3. EU

4. Chuck Brown & Soul Searchers

5. Proper Utensils

6. Rare Essence

(License revoked in February 2002 due to multiple violations of the voluntary agreement, including “playing live go-go music” and “patrons wearing timberland boots.”)

Red River Grill

201 Massachusetts Ave. NE

Protestant: citizen

Red River Grill STATES that it has gone over and beyond it’s [sic] duty in trying to address the concerns of the Protestant at great time, expense and loss of revenue. We are always willing to hear any complaints or comments Protestant has. Barring any new developments, this agreement and the actions taken by the establishment therein are the last Red River Grill will make voluntarily. We sincerely hope Protestant is satisfied.

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustrations by Gary Fields.