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Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators forced Hank’s Oyster Bar to shut down a portion of its patio without warning Friday evening, pending a review of the termination of the restaurant’s voluntary agreement with the neighborhood. The closure came the day before the Capital Pride parade, one of the busiest days of the year for Hank’s.
To sum up, the restaurant moved to cancel its voluntary agreement, which restricted its hours and prevented expansion, when it took over the space next door last year. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B supported the request and the ABC Board approved it, but a small handful of neighbors have since appealed the decision. While that appeal awaits a hearing, Hank’s was forced to close the portion of her patio in front of the expanded space. In a press release, Hank’s chef/owner Jamie Leeds called the action “unwarranted and unfair.”
Leeds also posted this open letter on the restaurant’s website:
Dear community member:
I am the chef/owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar, which I opened in 2005. Before opening the restaurant, I applied for an alcoholic beverage license. Although I had already made my name as a chef in Washington, D.C., and had no intention of operating a nightclub, my application was protested by certain individuals living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Because, at that time, the ABC Board refused to give me a timely hearing date to contest the protest, I was forced to sign a voluntary agreement, or lose the opportunity to proceed with the project. The voluntary agreement restricted my hours, and prevented me from expanding or otherwise increasing the occupancy of my business.
In 2010, seeing an opportunity to expand my successful business, I requested that the ABC Board terminate my voluntary agreement. The advisory neighborhood commission (ANC 2B) whole-heartedly supported the request. After a hearing, and a finding that termination of the VA would not have an adverse impact on the neighborhood, the Board ordered the VA terminated.
The Board then had a hearing on a request to expand my business to include the building next door, and the public space in front of it, and approved that request.
In the meantime, the few neighbors opposed to me appealed the termination of the VA to the Court of Appeals. The Court has now reversed the ABC Board, finding that not only do we have to show no adverse impact in terminating the VA, but also that we tried to work it out with the protestants by entering into an amended VA, and that we need the VA termination because of changed circumstances.
We have our hearing on these last two issues next Wednesday before the ABC Board. We are confident we will prevail, because we did try to work this out with those opposed to us back when we first sought termination of the VA, but they refused to meet. Also, since the Court of Appeals decision was reached, we offered to address their concerns with a more limited VA, but they insist we cut our outdoor occupancy by 25%, even though there have been no complaints. As for changes in the neighborhood, I am sure they are well known to you. Of course, it could take months for the Board to rule.
Last night, as a result of a complaint by the protesters, we were visited by ABC investigators. We were told we cannot use half of our patio seating area, because of the Court of Appeals decision. This happened before we even have had a hearing before the ABC Board.
If you agree that allowing a small number of individuals to dictate what happens in our community is wrong, please contact ABRA, Ward 2 CM Jack Evans, CM Jim Graham, Chair of the committee that oversees ABC, and Mayor Vincent Gray. Let them know that the ABC Board should be urged to make a decision quickly after next Wednesday’s hearing, reaffirming the termination of our VA. Also let them know that it is time to stop allowing a few residents to dictate what happens in a neighborhood, particularly when the duly elected ANC members feel otherwise. The right of a group of 5 residents to hold up a license application should be eliminated from the law. Otherwise the situation I find myself in will undoubtedly occur again.
Jamie Leeds, Chef/Owner, Hank’s Oyster Bar
Photo by Jessica Sidman