Housing Complex

ABRA Lets the Music Back Into Mount Pleasant

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance signed a set of "voluntary agreements" with seven local restaurants, pertaining to trash, advertising, alcohol service–no pitchers or promotions, for example–and banning live music, karaoke, and dancing (the agreements were modified in 2008 to allow entertainment within certain hours). They've effectively kept the neighborhood fairly quiet in the evenings by preventing the restaurants from attracting crowds late at night, which MPNA thinks Mt. Pleasant's sleepy commercial strip can't accommodate.

In the last few months, however, three of those compacts have been the dissolved by order of the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, giving the Latino-owned restaurants Haydee's, Don Juan's, and Don Jaime's greater freedom to have happy hours in the early evening and host bands later at night–generally behaving like a normal bar. It's a triumph for the pro-music group Hear Mount Pleasant as well as ANC 1D, which have been working for years to loosen the MPNA's hold over neighborhood businesses.

"The sky has not fallen, we haven't become Adams Morgan, and I don't think we will," said Claudia Schlosberg, a leader of Hear Mount Pleasant, which is planning an event at Don Juan's on April 26th to celebrate.

The disappearance of the MPNA voluntary agreements doesn't leave the restaurants without restrictions, though. Hear Mount Pleasant has executed its own agreements with the businesses, which still require live music to stop at midnight on weeknights and 1:30 a.m. on the weekends. In fact, MPNA says it offered to relax restrictions on alcohol service, happy hours, and entertainment–essentially coming very close to what the Hear Mount Pleasant agreements stipulate.

The difference is this: A voluntary agreement can either be terminated by the ABC board or by the assent of the group of residents who signed it. MPNA was willing to modify its agreement, but it still wanted to be the one in control, since it believes Hear Mount Pleasant might just terminate its own agreement if the restaurant owner asks.

"Their heart's not behind it," said the MPNA's representative Sam Broeksmit, of Hear Mount Pleasant. "We want to still be, for lack of better words, at the table."

Hear Mount Pleasant members emphasize, however, that the whole set of rules governing who has control over how a restaurant does business–the most restrictive voluntary agreement takes precedent–is counterproductive. In December, former MidCity Business Association director Natalie Avery outlined why the adversarial system wastes time that should instead be spent helping restaurants develop plans to mitigate neighborhood disturbances while still offering patrons live music and late hours. To that end, they've been working with Mount Pleasant restaurants to get their staff trained, manage noise, and upgrade their interiors to attract a broader demographic.

"It is exciting to see the ABC board take a stance that DC will now rely primarily on laws and the executive branch to enforce peace, order and quiet in the neighborhood rather than civic associations," writes former ANC Commissioner Phil Lepanto. "While Hear Mt. Pleasant has a Voluntary Agreement still standing with some of these licensees, there is active discussion within the organization to make sure that we focus on bringing stakeholders together to work towards best practices rather than simply establishing that there's a new sheriff in town."

The other four restaurants with MPNA voluntary agreements still in place–Marx Cafe, Tonic, Radius, and Corado's–may apply to terminate them as well when their liquor licenses come up for renewal. But Schlosberg notes that it tends to be a long and difficult process, which Haydee's, Don Juan's, and Don Jaime's could only accomplish with the help of extensive pro bono legal assistance. Plus, some of them have live entertainment anyway, voluntary agreement or not–Avery says the fact that Marx Cafe has late-night dance parties is due to uneven enforcement. Finally, the generally pro-business ABC Board will see a lot of turnover soon, and with chairman Charles Brodsky under investigation, mayor Vince Gray's nominees could be less willing to get antiquated agreements off the books.

* This post has been updated since its original publication.

  • http://www.Hitmaka.com Hitz

    cant be stoppin DC music. Whats wrong with yall? lol

  • http://www.atlanticexhibits.com/ Bill C.

    I believe they should keep the music going. Its a great way to bring in crowds and attract revenue.

  • Southeast Ken

    @HITZ, what about Go Go music?

  • Barn

    Had MTP street been allowed to evolve without intervention from the MPNA (the N stands for Nimby) it would have a lot more quality establishments by now. Establishments that passed over our neighborhood for places with less intrusive neighbors. I'm glad the tide is changing now, and with the new Flying Fish Coffee and Nanas Boutique coming to MTP maybe we can finally get some synergy going. I like a good pupusa and korean take-out as much as the next guy but sometimes you want to have a nice sit down meal without having to hoof it out of the neighborhood.

  • Ward3

    Hurray for the music! If other types of music can be played late hours, what is the problem with Latino music? It seems that it was just that the Caucasian neighborhood didn't like. Get over it. Mount Pleasant became a business section in DC and most of you who raise your eyebrows, were not even there when it started. Some of you moved to Adams Morgan because it became popular; you liked the Latino music, food and culture BUT not the Latinos. It is so obvious!!!

  • Skeptic

    "DC will now rely primarily on laws and the executive branch to enforce peace, order and quiet in the neighborhood"

    Like that has really worked well so far in other areas. Trying to get the ABC Board to enforce peace, order and quiet is like trying to get a fish to dance. It doesn't happen. As the story points out "Marx Cafe has late-night dance parties is due to uneven enforcement."

    And did the ABC Board exceed its authority in terminating the agreements? The law requires that absent consent of all parties, the Board can only change the agreement if "The need for an amendment is either caused by circumstances beyond the control of the applicant or is due to a change in the neighborhood where the applicant’s establishment is located."

    What were the "circumstances beyond the control of the applicant"? Or did Mount Pleasant change in some way? According to the story, it hasn't -- which is the argument of those seeking the terminations (terminators?) Sorry, but you can have it both ways -- you can't argue the neighborhood has changed to justify getting rid of the agreements - and then argue that nothing has changed. Or maybe it is a case of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

  • Southeast Ken

    Ward3, you are part right. Many people, especially blacks love Salsa and Menrengue along with Caribbean Latino food (Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban)

    There's nothing about Salvadoran and Mexican music and culture I like.

  • Southeast Ken

    Whatever happened to Laurie Collins?

  • deeceefooodeee

    Southeast Ken - sounds like you have never bothered to eat good Salvadoran or Mexican cuisine or travelled to either country?

  • http://dcjack.org Jack

    It's really about freedom: the freedom for Mount Pleasant residents to enjoy live music and dancing in local restaurants, until 1 or 2 AM if that's what they like. That's not my thing, for sure, but our neighborhood is supposed to be about diversity. So if restaurants can offer bands and dancing far into the night without undue disturbance to the neighbors, why not? That's where the MPNA failed at the ABC Board: they could not show that allowing music and dancing far into the night was really going to be a problem for the neighborhood.

    The initial breakthrough was in 2008, when the ABC Board allowed some limited live music and dancing. Then, as the Director of ABRA noted, "the sky didn't fall". All the MPNA fears of Mount Pleasant becoming a noisy, crowded Adams Morgan at night, were without foundation.

    So hooray for live music, karaoke, and dancing in Mount Pleasant. And Laurie Collins, BTW, doesn't live here any more.

  • Southeast Ken

    @deeceefooodeee; who in their right mind want to visit El Salvador and Mexico? El Salvador is a third world poor country that for many years denied blacks from living there. No I don't like Salvadoran or Mexican food.

    I love food from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Dominican Republic. I have traveled to all 3 places as well as Venezuela and Argentina. I loved the food and the people in all those places.

    Latino Caribbean cusine is the best coming from the 3 islands of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba. There's an Afro presence in these countries culturally. I can't say this about El Salvador and Mexico.

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