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When Shaw’s Tavern ran afoul of city liquor rules last year, resulting in the Florida Avenue eatery’s abrupt closure, it prompted immediate speculation about the fate of Engine Company 12, the proposed three-floor restaurant and bar at the old firehouse on North Capitol Street and Quincy Place. That’s because both businesses had the same proprietor: Abbas Fathi. The fact that city regulators ultimately deemed Fathi “unfit for licensure” at Shaw’s seemed to foretell a similar doom for the firehouse project.
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Fathi officially withdrew his liquor license application for Engine Company 12 earlier this week. His letter of withdrawal, dated Feb. 1, came the same day as a scheduled hearing before city liquor regulators. It turns out that Engine Company 12 was wrangling with some of the same issues as Shaw’s.
According to documents obtained from the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, the North Capitol firehouse had hosted a boozy private party just five days after submitting its application for a liquor license—a permit, which, in that short period of time, it had not received. And still hasn’t.
You’ll recall that Shaw’s Tavern had also gotten in trouble for pretty much the exact same thing. In Shaw’s case, Fathi had blamed the unlicensed party gaffe on his manager. At Engine Company 12, ABRA documents show, he blamed it on the building’s owner, construction executive Brian Brown:
“Mr. Fathi stated that he did not have any involvement in this event and that the owner of the building, Brian Brown, authorized the use of the building for this event by an outside group.”
Brown, meanwhile, simply blamed ignorance:
“Mr. Brown stated that he did not believe that the establishment required an ABC license because the event was a private fundraiser….Investigator Parker advised Mr. Brown that an ABC license is required for events like the one he described.”
ABRA documents also note that Fathi’s lease with landlord Brown was contingent upon his approval for a liquor license. In other words: no license, no deal.
And so the old firehouse, a property with a history of failed restaurant deals already, waits for yet another operator to take a chance on the location.
If prospective restaurateurs didn’t already learn a lesson from the Shaw’s debacle, maybe Engine Company 12’s woes will help drive home the point: if you don’t have a license to sell alcohol, don’t have alcohol on the premises. Period.
Photo by Lydia DePillis