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I understand you You’ve got a problem Now understand me It’s your problem not mine
—Dag Nasty, “All Ages Show”
Last summer, several teenagers were shot (though none fatally) outside a matinee go-go show at Market Lounge, a venue at the Florida Avenue Market. In fact, shootings and stabbings in (or, more often, outside) clubs are not uncommon in D.C. They can happen late at night or in mid-afternoon, and whether or not alcohol is being served. But when 17-year-old Taleshia Ford was killed last weekend, apparently the accidental victim of a conflict between a patron and a bouncer at 9th & U’s Smarta/Broadway, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham quickly announced that “this has got to stop.”
By that he means that he hopes to ban under-21s from some establishments that serve alcohol. Exactly what he has in mind is not clear; presumably, he doesn’t intend to bar kids from restaurants, or from such booze-peddling entertainment venues as, say, the Kennedy Center. But Graham’s broad-brush approach could affect clubs like the Black Cat and the 9:30 Club, which still (largely) respect the early-’80s tradition of the all-ages show.
It’s illegal to serve alcohol to minors in D.C., of course. Yet there’s no requirement that under-21s be barred from bars and clubs, many of which are technically restaurants. In the late ’70s, live-music venues often excluded minors, even though the drinking age then was 18 for beer and wine, and all clubs were classified as restaurants. (The “tavern” license is a subsequent addition to the law.) When a lively, teen-oriented punk scene developed, circa 1980, some of the savvier local clubs responded with “hardcore matinees” (at which alcohol was not served) and all-ages shows, which continue to this day.
Washington didn’t invite the all-ages music venue. In fact, it was in San Francisco that such D.C. musicians as Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye (now of the Evens) first saw X’s scrawled on the hands of under-age patrons. But the all-ages show became associated internationally with Washington’s dynamic punk scene, and was quickly adapted into a local insignia: two bars and three X’s, in emulation of the D.C. flag. A few years later, Dag Nasty began performing “All Ages Show.”
Graham has announced a “public roundtable” today [Thursday] to discuss changing the law and possibly banning alcohol-serving all-ages venues. Yet Monday’s Washington Post article on the killing at Smarta/Broadway suggests that laws already on the books could have closed that trouble spot. Open since September 2004, the club had been fined for selling alcohol after hours and had its license suspended for five days. Subsequently, the Post reports, the business was cited for “additional violations,” including allowing patrons to leave with alcoholic beverages in hand.
In other words, Smarta/Broadway had a problem. But solving that problem need not involve changing any city laws, or ending a local tradition with a largely trouble-free history. The gap between Washington’s diverse culture and the D.C. Council’s narrow perception of the city has long been substantial. Let’s hope it’s not wide enough to drive counterproductive new legislation through.