City Desk

Could a Loud Bar Get a Pass Because Its ANC Was Playing Hooky?

Most of the time, restaurants and bars that have violated city noise ordinances have a lot to fear from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, whose votes can influence whether D.C. booze authorities will allow rowdy establishments to keep their liquor licenses. U Street NW's New Town Kitchen and Lounge might get lucky, however—not because it swayed its local ANC commissioners, but because not enough of them showed up to recommend stripping it of its liquor license.

This April, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration announced the results of a task force's campaign to make unannounced visits to bars that had already been the subject of noise complaints from residents. The results: Of the 73 establishments the task force visited between March 13 and April 25, it found nine noise violations in all, coming from just five bars.

Two of those violations came from New Town, whose liquor license is up for renewal. But Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, missed the July 21 deadline to protest the liquor license because at its last two meetings, it did not have enough elected members for a quorum.

As Short Articles About Long Meetings first reported, the ANC failed to meet quorum at its July 17 monthly meeting, which was a make-up for its July 10 meeting, when the commission also failed to meet quorum. In order to meet quorum, seven of the commission's 12 elected officials need to be present. The July 17 gathering had only five commissioners, one of whom showed up midway through the meeting, according to ANC 1B Chair James Turner.

Four of the absent commissioners said ahead of time that they wouldn't be present, while two others—Sedrick Muhammad and Dyana Forester—were no-shows. Muhammad and Forester did not respond to a request for comment. The commission also failed to meet quorum at its monthly meetings in March and December.

"We're in the second year of the two-year term and many of them are not running again," Turner, who was at the July 17 meeting, tells City Desk. "When they become commissioners for the first time they become disillusioned." But, he adds, "there's a responsibility and commitment that needs to be met." (Muhammad and Forester have not yet picked up petitions to run for reelection, according to the D.C. Board of Elections.)

Because of these absences, the ANC missed the deadline to protest the renewal of New Town's liquor license as well as a new license for Signature Lounge, a hookah bar at 1920 9th Street NW. The Alcohol Beverage Control Board, the body that grants the liquor licenses, by law must gives "great weight" to ANCs' protests and recommendations.

The liquor licensing affairs committee of ANC1B had recommended that the licenses of these two establishments be protested because they disturb the peace, order, and quiet of the neighborhood. Nick Baumann, the chair of the committee, says that New Town Kitchen took over the liquor license from Tabaq Bistro and has not complied with previously agreed-upon noise-mitigation actions. Multiple neighbors have complained about the night time establishment. Signature Lounge, according to Baumann, wants to be able to keep its back outdoor patio open until 2 a.m. on the weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekends. The liquor licensing affairs committee had asked Signature Lounge to submit a letter from residents saying they would not be bothered by the noise, but the lounge never submitted the letter, which is why the committee wanted the ANC to protest the license.

"Obviously being ANC commissioner is a thankless job, and most of the people who do it have day jobs and families and other commitments," Baumann writes in an email.
"But I don't think it should be too much to ask to have seven of 1B's 12 commissioners to show up once a month."

New Town owner Howsoon Cham says he's met with the few neighbors that have complained about his place. Because New Town is located near the intersection of 14th and U streets, he says officials' expectations for quiet aren't really realistic.

"They don't want any pins drop sound coming out of there—to them that's the definition of noise," he says, attributing the dispute to a small number of repeat complainers. Signature Lounge could not immediately be reached for comment.

Turner has submitted a request to the ABC Board to extend the deadline to protest these licenses and has also requested that the board grandfather in the ANC's previous protests of New Town's liquor license.  The board is expected to rule on that today.

Jessie Cornelius, a spokeswoman for ABRA, says the board has already received other protests for New Town, including one from the Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance.

The liquor license for New Town Kitchen and Lounge could still be challenged, but either way, the residents living around the U Street establishment may want to ask their elected ANC reps to actually show up to their meetings.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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