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For this week’s S&T, I spoke to Bill Duggan, owner of Adams Morgan anagram bar Madam’s Organ. Since 2000, Duggan’s been sparring with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration over the issue of occupancy in his bar: ABRA said he was limited to 99 patrons, the number of seats on his restaurant license’s certificate of occupancy; Duggan contested that he could pack up to 393 patrons in, his fire marshall approved capacity. Earlier this month, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in Duggan’s favor.
This isn’t the first time that Duggan has dealt with issues of occupancy. For the past decade, Duggan and Madam’s Organ have organized a beach trip for area kids to Dewey Beach, Delaware. Each year, Duggan takes 20 to 40 District kiddies, along with 10 to 15 adult volunteers, for a weekend of bonfiring, crab-hunting, and beach-housing.
Dewey Beach didn’t always like that. “The second year of the trip, I was arrested for disorderly conduct,” says Duggan. “I made sure to tell the local [authorities] that the kids were coming, and they said it would be fine. They said ‘Hey, this is 1999, not 1969.'”
But Duggan says the beach cops were ready and waiting to kill the party. “Sure enough, there they were, hiding in the bushes, waiting for us,” he says. “They didn’t like having a bunch of black kids on the beach … The beach cop, he was like the leader of the Aryan nation: starched shirt, blonde hair, white eyebrows. He kicked us off the beach.”
That’s where Duggan’s pint-sized occupancy issue comes in: “Technically, the permit said only 25 kids at the bonfire at one time. And we had 35. But they were coming and going! Some were playing on the beach, others were at the house; they weren’t all at the bonfire at one time.”
But unlike the D.C. Court of Appeals, the beach cops didn’t buy Duggan’s maneuvering. “They put me in the paddywaggon,” says Duggan. “I said, ‘Fine, but the kids are coming with me.'”
After a brief lock-up and some negotiation, Duggan was released to continue spearheading the kiddie beach adventure. According to Duggan, the experience didn’t put a damper on the kids’ summer trip. “Oh, they loved it,” he says. “They kept shouting, ‘Mr. Duggan! You got locked up!'”
Photo by Charles Steck