City Desk

Shhhhhhh! You’re in a D.C. Bar!


The residents of Dupont may soon be able to sleep a little more soundly. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration announced that it would be kicking off a noise laws campaign this evening—a campaign that will encourage establishments to learn about and comply with D.C. noise laws that are already on the books.

The campaign comes after a Dupont citizens group, D.C. Nightlife Noise Coalition, began pushing for local officials to enforce the Noise Control Act, which limits noise levels at night to 60 decibels, or about the sound level of a normal conversation. The group, according to its spokeswoman, Sarah Peck, has already formally protested six bars trying to renew their liquor licenses and has gone around the Dupont area—specifically the area south of Dupont Circle along Connecticut Avenue nicknamed Club Central—with a sound meter to measure the sound emanating from the local establishments.

"I'm trying to do the work that the city should be doing, that people who get a pay check form the city should be doing," Peck says.

The press release that ABRA sent out today does not specifically mention the Dupont neighborhood or the campaign. But, as reported by Short Articles about Long Meetings, the Dupont ANC hosted an information session on the initiative this week.

"There will be increased noise checks starting this Thursday in many areas, including this neighborhood [i.e., Dupont Circle]", director of ABRA Fred Moosally said at the meeting. "Business will not be informed beforehand."

Other than that, ABRA says it will not announce the neighborhoods it will be targeting.

Under this campaign, a task force comprised of various D.C. agencies (ABRA, Metropolitan Police Department, and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs) will conduct unannounced noise compliance sound checks at D.C. establishments that hold ABC licenses. The task force will operate from Thursday to Sunday from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m.

If an establishment is being too rowdy, they will get a written warning for a first offense. A second offense will result in a $1,000 fine and a third violation would be $2,000. If there are any more violations, the establishment would risk losing its liquor license, SALM reported.

ABRA sent a letter this week to area establishments informing of noise laws and this task force.

But ABRA and local officials should be warned: The D.C. Nightlife Noise Coalition is a bit skeptical of the task force and will make sure the noise laws are being aggressively enforced.

"I don't know whether it's all show, or whether it will be a true enforcement, we will be watching and consulting," says Peck. "This isn't one grumpy old person wishing people wouldn't have fun. I want people to have a lot of fun, I just want businesses to comply with the law."

Photo by MildlyDiverting via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Correction: Due to a reporting error, the post originally stated that the task force is new. The task force is not new, but rather the campaign that ABRA is launching is new.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • Concerned4Business

    I live on a small street with no bars or restaurants within a few blocks but there are times where people are walking and talking loudly during late hours of the night. This happens and it's a part of living in a dense neighborhood. People can be walking down any street in the Dupont neighborhood and behaving loudly but have not frequented any bar or restaurant in the area. This group needs to be careful and not target establishments simply because people in the streets nearby are being loud. These establishments have no control over what folks do when they leave or even stand on a sidewalk near the establishment. The sidewalks are public property and are not a reflection of the business.

  • Matt K

    I’d be very interested in seeing an interpretation of this legislation by a legal professional, but I think the title of this article (specifically the part about being “in” a bar) is a little misleading. My cursory read of the act and the published handbook on it, leads me to believe that this is not actually about the sound pressure levels (SPL) *in* the establishment, but rather measured "at the property line” (2701.2). On top of that, DC’s alcoholic beverage regulation code §25-725 very explicitly refers to noises that can be heard *outside* the establishment.
    Additionally, the Noise Control Act seems to indicate that a disturbance refers to an individual “sound” achieving a SPL of at least 60dB. I interpret this to mean that in order to cite a DC bar for a noise violation from loud music, for example, authorities would need a baseline measurement at the property line of the ambient SPL *without* the music, to be subtracted from the measured levels with music present. Note that unamplified voices seem to be exempt from this act (2704.8).

    Not that I condone hazardous SPL (OSHA publishes guidelines on healthful noise exposure), however a loud music show will typically reach or exceed 100dB inside the venue. You would probably find that a baseline measurement without music is already over 70dB; making the citable noise source only around 30dB itself. On top of that, distance from the source plus sound dampening properties of the building’s structure would render this measurement even lower at the property line.

    I’m not well versed in law, so take my interpretation with a grain of salt, but I feel that this act is not aimed at reducing the cumulative sound levels inside an establishment, but rather at individual noise sources that are capable of causing noise pollution outside of a venue.

  • Terry Snyder

    I love how these ANC lunatics think they can control the city. Just because they don't want to go out for the evening doesn't mean the rest of us don't. Bars are supposed to make noise. If you don't like living near a bar, move.