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It was orientation night for the alcohol board’s newest member. Mital Gandhi joined the board on April 11, and that weekend alcohol investigator Jeff Jackson set out to show him the ropes. On April 13, the two men visited a number of establishments, including Love, Fur, Lima, and K Street Lounge, so that Jackson could give Gandhi a sense of how nightclub security works. At K Street Lounge, they got more firsthand experience than they bargained for and some unsolicited fashion advice as well.
Jackson and Gandhi arrived at K Street Lounge at approximately 11:35 p.m. As he always does, Jackson flashed his badge before crossing the velvet rope and striding past security. Gandhi followed close on his heels. “ABC entering,” a security guard announced into his radio as they walked by. “I heard ‘ABC, ABC,’?” Jackson later testified at a May 16 board hearing about what ensued.
Once inside, one of the club’s owners, David Chung, came to greet them. Jackson told the board he had met Chung before, but the clubowner seemed not to recognize him. In fact, Chung asked Jackson if he could inspect his badge more closely, just to make sure his credentials were real. “He asked if he can see them in the light,” Jackson said. The investigator handed Chung his badge and turned his attention elsewhere. “And when I turned around, I saw Mr. Chung Xeroxing my credentials,” Jackson said.
Jackson was “offended” by Chung’s actions, he said, and snatched his credentials from the copier. They began arguing, gesturing at each other and raising their voices in what Jackson called a “verbal altercation.” Then another individual, Jackson remembered, a tall “gentleman” wearing a suit and tie appeared. “He put his hands out and pushed me back slightly but sternly,” Jackson testified. Jackson told the man if he touched him again, he would have him arrested for assault. Then Jackson reported what happened to a cop on duty at the club. Chung suggested the two men “start all over again,” Jackson said. “And then we just became civil.”
Chung said the whole thing was a misunderstanding. It’s true, he didn’t recognize Jackson and doubted his credentials, he testified before the board. “We have had problems with people coming in claiming that they [were] working in an official government capacity that has unfortunately…not been the case,” he said. “They’ve either been giving us false statement[s] or fabricated credentials.”
Plus, he said, the officials’ attire gave him pause. “The night Investigator Jackson came in, he came in with a hat, and he wasn’t—to tell you the truth—he wasn’t appropriately dressed,” Chung said. “Board member Gandhi, I believe, was in a short-sleeved shirt, but it was pretty beat up. And I’m sorry to say this, but we do have strict dress requirements.”
In an interview, Gandhi says he doesn’t remember which shirt he was wearing that night, but he knows he was wearing jeans and a blazer. “I’m more of a jeans-and-a-blazer guy, and that’s what I was wearing when I went out with the investigator.” Gandhi says he wants to be clear on this point. “I’m not one of those people that goes out wearing a raggedy shirt.”
Chung said the incident was more “confusion” than altercation. If the men raised their voices, it was because the music was loud, he said, and when the tall man intervened, he did so because he was concerned for Chung’s safety. In an interview, he said the whole thing could have been avoided if he had had advance notice of the investigator’s visit.
The board decided not to take any action on the incident. (Gandhi recused himself from the K Street hearing). “If any of this type of operational incident occurs again, we will revisit this issue,” board chair Charles Burger said. He added that the board would take concerns about alcohol officials’ clothing under advisement. “We don’t want to cause a scene, so we should maybe dress up a little bit better on our investigators,” he said.
A dress code for alcohol investigators actually went into effect earlier this year, according to ABRA officials, as a result of conversations that have been going on for some time. Investigators are required to dress “business casual, but no jeans,” says official Cynthia Simms.
“But the point is,” Burger said at the hearing, “if [the investigators] come in, if they’re naked with a badge—I’d hate to say it, they’re coming in.…We don’t want our investigators intimidated from going into any establishment for whatever reason because we want them to be able to do their job.”
Board member Audrey Thompson, on the other hand, said she felt the issue deserved more scrutiny. “First I’d like to direct your attention to our regulations,” she said to Chung, noting that the regulations state that “the board, that would be us, may summarily revoke, suspend, fine, or restrict the license of a licensee [whose] establishment has been the scene of an assault on a…government inspector.…We do not take lightly to our investigators being harassed or played with.” She said the administration would be holding a seminar on “overly aggressive security staff” in the coming months. “So we’ll keep you in mind and invite you.”
Can’t Beat It?
There’s a new restaurant in Foggy Bottom. Tonic opened May 29 at 2036 G St. NW and occupies three floors of what was once Quigley’s Pharmacy, a drugstore and soda fountain that opened in 1891. Co-owner Jeremy Pollok describes the place as “casual,” “homey,” and similar to his Mount Pleasant outpost of the same name. He adds that the restaurant’s shiny, wooden bar is absolutely “beautiful.”
But there’s no liquor being served there. The new Tonic is nestled within George Washington University’s campus, in a university-owned building, and the area is zoned as residential. On Feb. 21, the ABC Board denied Tonic’s liquor-license application, stating D.C. Code prohibits liquor licenses in residential areas.
So why is there a beautiful bar at Tonic? “I’m hoping,” Pollok says. “I’m an optimistic person.” And he has reason to be. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham has introduced a bill that would permit Tonic’s owners to acquire a liquor license for their GWU restaurant, even though code forbids it.
By striking just two words, “type and,” from the code, Graham’s bill—the Retail Class Exemption Clarification Amendment Act of 2007—would make it possible for Tonic to acquire a license. How? As it’s currently written, D.C. Code prohibits retail licenses in residentially zoned areas unless there’s a license of the same “type and class” within 400 feet. The Lisner Auditorium, which holds a CX multipurpose license, happens to be fewer than 400 feet away. The board considers Lisner the same class as Tonic but not the same type.
Vince Micone, chair of the Foggy Bottom-West End advisory neighborhood commission, worries the Graham bill could pave the way for other liquor-licensed establishments to open in residential areas. The commission originally supported some university-sponsored food service establishment at the site, he says, but opposed Tonic’s liquor license application. “Basically, what they want to do is change the entire law for this specific business,” he says. “I think it’s ridiculous.” Micone worries it “could impact on other parts of the city.”
Jeff Coudriet, who assisted Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose in rewriting the liquor law in 2001, says the law is strict when it comes to residential areas for a reason. Ambrose didn’t want a proliferation of additional liquor licensees operating in residential zones, he says.
Graham declined to discuss details of the proposal, saying he has yet to officially endorse it. A hearing is scheduled for June 13.
1988 – 2007
Last month Bird Noises guitarist Joseph Amoury, 18, was doing what he planned to do this summer: heading out from Springfield, Va., to drive around the country with friends on “a vagabond trip, selling CDs for food and gas,” his father says. On May 31, however, Amoury and two of his friends were killed on I-64 in Summers County, W.Va., when their vehicle was hit by a tractor-trailer that jackknifed and jumped the median.
Bird Noises, formerly Polynation, gravitated to the D.C. music scene. In the past two years, the group landed gigs at the Black Cat, Warehouse Next Door, and the Rock & Roll Hotel. The band’s MySpace page lists Fugazi and Q and Not U among its influences, and in December it released an EP on the D.C. label Ruffian Records. The band had a “kinship” with D.C.’s music scene, says Ruffian Records’ Hugh McElroy. “The music was very sort of angular…rhythmically interesting, texturally interesting,” he says. McElroy, who plays bass and sings with the band Sentai, says he met Joseph at one of his shows when Amoury “basically came up and said hello.”
That was pretty common behavior for Joseph, says Amoury’s mother, Cathy. Joseph and his friends, she says, were always going to shows in D.C., meeting other musicians, and making connections. “He made a lot of friendships through music,” she says.
Joseph’s father, Jerry Amoury, says his son began playing guitar in middle school. “He just played it, and played it, and played it.” He infused his music with an activist spirit and “controversial lyrics,” his father says. Joseph was a vegan, anti-consumerist, “well-read, self-righteous, pious,” he says, adding that his son loved Hunter S. Thompson, Gabriel García Márquez, and the Ramones, and had just finished his first year at Virginia Commonwealth University. “He loved people, loved his life, and he loved music with every bone the way people should love music,” Jerry says.
According to Jerry, he and his wife, both musicians, respected their son’s privacy. But after he died, they decided to visit his MySpace page (http://myspace.com/polynation). They were overwhelmed by what they found. “We’ve tapped into this well of community we didn’t even know existed, teenage-y with a drive and a love. We are just blown away.”
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