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 drug store and soda fountain that opened in 1891. Co-owner Jeremy Pollok describes the place as “casual,” “homey,” and similar to the Mount Pleasant outpost. He adds that the restaurant’s shiny, wooden bar is absolutely “beautiful.”
Just don’t try to get any booze at that beautiful bar. The new Tonic is nestled within George Washington University’s campus, in a university-owned building, and the area is zoned as residential. That’s a problem for Tonic. On Feb. 21, the ABC Board denied Tonic’s liquor-license application, stating that D.C. Code prohibits liquor licenses in residential areas.
So why is there a 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.
Why? 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 less 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 then-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.