City Desk

Jim Graham Speaks Up On Bossa Bistro and Bobby Lew’s

I got some fine Grahamstanding in my e-mail inbox this morning. Councilmember Jim Graham promised to talk to people(!)–even ANC Commissioner Bryan Weaver. The reason? Two Adams Morgan joints lost their liquor licenses two days ago. The ABC Board contended that Bossa Bistro and Bobby Lew's weren't selling enough food to qualify for their class of license. Weaver and fellow commissioner Mindy Moretti sent out a statement yesterday. It reads in part:

"While the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC1C) does not believe any business should be above the law, we do believe the decision to close these two establishments, especially in these difficult economic times, was wrong and short-sighted.

Our city has had an unending capacity to bend over backwards for large developers and corporations — for example recently providing millions of dollars in earmarks for a parking garage and tax exemptions for a condo developer — yet the ABC Board has chosen now, in one of our most difficult economic times in history, to enforce a law that harms small businesses, will cause people to lose jobs and will shutter storefronts contributing to urban blight."

Graham responded this morning.

Graham writes:

"I am meeting today with the owners of both businesses and Bryan Weaver. Let me hear the case they present.

I am well aware of the community pressure, here and throughout the city, for enforcement of the food requirements for CR licensees. It has been an issue for years. With my alcohol oversight, I have approached this very deliberately: we have added auditors to the ABRA staff in order to get very accurate reports. The ABC Board has held a series of hearings on these general issues over the years, and has established standards. This has been no rush to judgment.

I am also informed that there may be more licensees subject to sanctions of various kinds (including revocation) in the near future.

It is worthy of note that, of the more than 600 CR licensees throughout DC, there are very few noncompliant restaurants (under 20), and most of them are in Adams Morgan. The situation is also impacted by the moratorium in Adams Morgan. In other areas, including U Street, a non compliant restaurant may apply to change the license status, say perhaps to a tavern. About a dozen Adams Morgan CRs did the same thing before the ban on new tavern licenses took effect. Now, that option is unavailable to these noncompliant licensees."

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  • Jamie

    Without knowing the history - e.g. did these places fail to apply for a license conversion when the option was available, despite obviously being out of compliance - it's hard to know how much sympathy to have.

    However, the tavern license moratorium in Adams Morgan made no sense from the get go. Forcing an established business to shut down over a technicality, and artificially limiting the availability of a certain type of license that obviously has a demand in Adams Morgan, is just bad business and especially bad for one of the few areas in DC that has a unique identity and culture, love it or hate it.

    I have no sympathy for the whiners who live in Adams Morgan and complain about noise, trash, and so on. They say they want more kitschy shops and so on. Well guess what - business is business, and the reason those places aren't there is because they don't stay in business there. People go to Adams Morgan to eat, drink and party.

    I lived there 20 years ago and it was no different. That's WHY I lived there. It's not like the neighborhood dramatically changed around anyone, it's always been that way. If you don't like it then YOU have changed, so move out instead of trying to cripple the night life with draconian rules that make no sense Adams Morgan.

  • Key

    Right. Why try to change anything? Robberies, murders? Waste of time!

    there have to be some standards.

  • Robert Louis

    Yes, and the fact that there are some people who compare those who love nightlife with murderers and robbers is precisely the problem.

  • kob

    Is this what happens:

    -- DC closes more a dozen bars in Adams Morgan because they don't sell enough food.

    -- The tavern licenses are vaporized because of the license moratorium.

    -- The previously occupied storefronts stay empty as potential non-booze selling occupants worry that Adams Morgan foot-traffic will suffer because of vacant storefronts.

    -- Foot traffic declines as 18th Street vacancies increase.

    -- The new issue for Adams Morgan concerns revitalizing 18th Street.

    -- The DC Council is asked to fund a development study for reusing empty storefronts. After sending thousands of dollars to a well-connected consultant, this study concludes that art uses, gallery spaces, is the best possible mix use option.

    -- Jim Graham must now fight for thousands of dollars to save 18th Street as a destination spot. He succeeds, and the density of drinking establishments declines as art galleries flourish.

    -- Or Jim Graham fails and 18th Street is overtaken by market forces that set it on a spiral of decline.

    -- As a result of the ABC's action and the moratorium, drinking in DC declines, crime falls dramatically, and the trash disappears. People walk around DC with smiles.

    -- Or the people who have complained about the bars in Adams Morgan now worry about the impact of a sketchy, formerly unique area, on their property values, prospects for renting homes, and concerns that unattended store fronts are possible fire traps.

  • Jamie

    Nice comment!

    "As a result of the ABC’s action and the moratorium, drinking in DC declines, crime falls dramatically, and the trash disappears. People walk around DC with smiles."

    Ha ha!! Awesome. But then, those who equate night life with crime probably believe in this sort of cause and effect. Without question, the spate of gang-related homicides and violent muggings we've in my neighborhood (Columbia Heights) lately are because there are too many places that serve alcohol. If only we could close down our 5 bars and 12 liquor stores, poverty and crime would almost certainly vanish.

  • Key

    It's also about balance. Right now the blood alcohol content is way too high. And has been for some time.

  • Downtown Rez

    "Yes, and the fact that there are some people who compare those who love nightlife with murderers and robbers is precisely the problem."
    Perhaps, but a larger part of the problem is that AM has more than it's share of robberies, murders, other mayhem- so much so that in response it has *both* increased taxpayer-covered MPD patrols AND liquor dollars-bought reimbursable detail MPD patrols. This is precisely because of the exceedingly loose party atmosphere, which is largely created by the dense concentration of bars and "restaurants".
    The above may not be often publicly (and when it is, even less often politely) discussed, but it's not a matter of debate among those who's profession it is to deal with such things.

  • Fred

    You said it perfectly.

  • James

    Rez is spot on !!

    I offer one minor clarification: the reimbursable duty police officers who work on Friday and Saturday nights after midnight in the 2300 and 2400 block of 18th Street are not paid with liquor dollars. They are paid with with Business Improvement District taxes collected from ALL property owners and businesses in AM. You see, the same legitimate restaurants and retail businesses which suffer from the out of control party atmosphere also get to pay to prop up this environment by providing the extra security officers that give the entire scene an air of legitimacy.

  • Robert Louis

    Yes, Rez, the "loose, party atmosphere" causes robberies and murderers, because we all know what criminals the people who enjoy nightlife are. No doubt, if everyone just stayed in their homes ALL the time, the crime rate would plummet, as there would be no victims. I've been to such a place. It's called the suburbs!

  • Fred


    I agree with you mostly, but you might want to check that part about the BID - are they not paying for PRIVATE security? is it indeed MPD?

    BTW, last night a police officer was shot in AM and a suspect was killed.

  • Downtown Rez

    Fred- You have all three in AM: private security, tax-payed MPD, and BID-payed MPD.

    RL- I never said that people who enjoy night-life are criminals, but you did- twice.

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    The cops killed a robber in AM last night. What a dump - AM is for drunken 22-year-olds from VA & MD.

  • J

    You know what - its sad but when I was in college 9 years ago adams morgan was kinda of a crazy dump. Now I work near there and its still a dump and getting worse. The empty storefronts and the crappy places that are there. I think it needs to have a complete overhaul. And that may mean no more Adams Morgan as we know it, unfortunately.

  • P

    It is sad that people don't look at what is really going on. First the moratorium should be illegal when you can go block over to U St and convert to a tavern license from a restaurant license but not in Adams Morgan. And does anyone writing on this blog ever look around at how many vacant buildings there already are in Adams Morgan? Why is that?? Becuase there is a moratorium on tavern licenses. Art galleries can not afford the rents down there. Should landlords take less money because some one does not like bars in there neighborhood. I though this was America? Wake up people. The liquor board has no right to take away a liquor license for a first time non-criminal offense. Should 200 people who work up and down 18th St be out-of-work because not enough people decided to order food when they ordered a drink at these establishments? Should people foreclose on their homes and lose their health insurance because people like those reading this think Adams Morgan is a dump? If you do think that's great stay home or go to another part of town, but these restaurant owners and their employees support families and children from this establishments. How would anyone of you reading this like the DC gov't to come to your office and tell you that they are revoking your ability to work and taking your life saving and leaving you with debt you can't pay back for something that was out of your control? If you are a restaurant and serve food and people choose not to eat as much as they drink is that something you can force upon them?? Wake up!!! People are going to lose everything they have and not becuase it is mandatory under the law to revoke a license. I know for a fact that the attorney general has recommended fines for these establishments and the board has chosen to take it upon themselves for these rogue and abuse of power decisions, no one else. Should someone who gets a speeding ticket for the first time lose their license and never be allowed to drive again and have their car taken away and yet they have to continue to make payments on it? That is exactly what is happening. These licenses are being revoked not for violence or underage drinking or noise violations but because customers order what they want. Go to any place mentioned and order food and you will be able to eat. No one refuses to serve food, yet they want to take your liquor license away because not enough people ordered a hamburger at your restaurant. Pathetic and DC should not receive 1 cent of funding from the US Gov"t for stimulus money because they are throwing million of dollars of tax revenue away by closing these businesses for a rule that discriminates against one neighborhood and not another. And to answer the first person question , no Grand Central and Bobby Lew"s were not even in business yet when the ability to transfer to a tavern license was available. Nor was thr food/liquor sales even enforced. This is the first year it ever has been.

  • Fred

    "Should 200 people who work up and down 18th St be out-of-work because not enough people decided to order food when they ordered a drink at these establishments?"

    Maybe the owner should for not owning up to his or her end of the bargain?

    I have sympathy, but when you enter into an agreement, aren't you expected to uphold it? It's not like it came totally out of the blue.

  • Downtown Rez

    Let's bring back Bear Stearns and Enron cause, you know, it really sucks for their employees that their managers were frauds, too.

  • yeahright

    Hmmm. Bobby Lew's gets a restaurant license knowing full well what the food requirements are, but then calls themselves a saloon, advertises drink specials in the window, and has virtually no sign of tables, waitresses or menus. Meanwhile the restaurants immediately next door are having no problems meeting the food minimum. I'd rather have a vacant storefront. But given the hefty vacant property tax rate, it won't be vacant for long. . .

  • Роман Макаров

    За статью премного благодарен, все по делу, достаточно много кто это уже применяет