When CityLab reporter and City Paper contributor Kriston Capps shared a video he recorded and a photo he snapped of customers inside The Alibi on the afternoon of Jan. 6, Twitter users reacted by tagging Mayor Muriel Bowser and city agencies that have the power to hold the bar accountable for violating the indoor dining ban. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration issues warnings and fines.
Most of the patrons caught on camera inside The Alibi located at 237 2nd St. NW were maskless, wearing MAGA hats, and tuned into the TV above the bar watching Donald Trump give the recorded address where he doubled down on claims that the election was stolen. On Capps’ video you can hear one Alibi customer yell, “God bless Donald Trump,” followed by hoots of approval.
Even if the patrons at The Albi weren’t cheering the incitement of violence that led to Trump’s second impeachment earlier this week, the bar would still be breaking the law. Bowser paused indoor dining at 10 p.m. on December 23 to slow the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season. The ban was scheduled to lift on Jan. 15, but the mayor extended it through Jan. 22 because of both COVID-19 and inauguration-related public safety concerns.
(The co-owner of the bar, Martin Scahill, told Eater that he did not open for illegal indoor dining. Rather, he says, he decided to open that day for outdoor dining and takeout and quickly became overwhelmed by customers waiting for takeout orders.)
ABRA regularly shares which businesses it has penalized or warned on its website. The most recent report shows six bars, restaurants, and hotels that received citations since the indoor dining ban took effect: Deja Vu Lounge/The District Sports Bar, Ambassador Restaurant, Grand Hyatt Washington, Kick Axe Throwing/Throw Social, Swahili Village, and The Alibi.
Four were said to have had patrons inside eating, drinking, or throwing axes, along with a litany of other blatant violations ranging from patrons seated at a staff bar to not serving any prepared food with alcohol to offering live entertainment. Of those four venues, three had cases drafted for ABC Board Review—which could mean their license is in jeopardy—and one received a $1,000 fine.
The Alibi, meanwhile, received a written warning for having patrons who were not socially distant and who were not wearing masks on Jan. 6. Why the slap on the wrist and no mention of the fact that patrons were eating and drinking inside? Capps’ photo appears to show a woman biting a sandwich, another hunched over a meal, and a man pouring the contents of a can into a cup. While it appears the food and drinks are in to-go containers, it was the bar’s responsibility to require patrons to consume food and drink elsewhere after picking it up.
What gives? According to ABRA, while its investigators monitor social media to determine response needs, video footage and photographs included in social media posts cannot be used to substantiate a violation. An ABRA investigator must observe the violation to be able to issue a citation, and nightlife blogger Barred in DC correctly predicted The Alibi wouldn’t be fined as a result. An agency representative tells City Paper that when an ABRA investigator attempted to conduct an inspection at The Alibi, they found the establishment closed to the public.
But if the business was closed on Jan. 6, the date of the violation, how could an ABRA inspector have observed patrons without masks who weren’t socially distant?
An inspector visited The Alibi again on Jan. 11. This time the “license-holder” was present and the pair got to talking, according to ABRA. “The license holder acknowledged to the ABRA investigator during their discussion that patrons were not all social distancing or wearing face masks on the date in question and that the license holder was committed to better enforcing the guidelines,” an agency rep explains. Statements made to ABRA investigators, unlike photos and videos, may be used to substantiate citations.
ABRA adds that, unlike The Alibi, an inspector observed and documented all of the infractions at Deja Vu, Ambassador, Swahili Village, and Kick Axe. Cases for the first three establishments were referred to the ABC Board for adjudication “based upon the previous investigative histories of the establishments and/or gravity of the offense(s).”
The agency rep tells City Paper it will continue to monitor activity at The Alibi. The situation remains a source of frustration, and not just because of the type of patrons The Alibi attracts. Most D.C. restaurants and bar are abiding by pandemic-related operating restrictions no matter how devastating they are to their bottom line or their out-of-work staff struggling to obtain unemployment benefits. Seeing others flaunt the rules is an uppercut to the gut.