Young and Hungry

Booze Police Bust Shaw’s Tavern Before It Even Opens

If you were hoping to have a brew at the newly opened Shaw's Tavern, you're going to have to wait a little bit longer. Eater DC noted the absence of alcohol last week, calling it a "teensy hiccup [...] that should be figured out by next week."

More of a boozy burp, really. It turns out, the barely week-old venue is already in trouble with the District's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), having been cited for operating without a license on account of some pre-opening festivities.

How does a tavern get in trouble for operating when it's not even, well, operating? (Maybe ABRA agents were tipped off by the early reviews on Yelp.)

Head chef John Cochran says it's all a big misunderstanding. He tells Y&H that, yes, the tavern did host a soft opening to a small private party; in fact, it was a charity event benefiting local victims of domestic violence. And, no, the venue had not yet obtained its liquor license. And maybe there was booze. "I can't get into that," Cochran says, "because they're so many misunderstandings."  But, operating? Well, that depends on your definition, says Cochran:

I’m assuming the definition of operation is that someone comes in, pays for something and we serve it to them. Is there a difference between operating and doing a charity event for women’s domestic violence? That’s what we did. Is there a difference between those two things? Yes. Yes, there is. Have we operated? No. Have we ever sold anything? No. Do we have a hearing coming up? Yes. Are we completely panicked about it? Yes? Am I some poor schlep that hasn’t gone into the restaurant business the last few years because I closed my own business because I didn’t want to deal with this shit? Yes. Do I have to answer these questions from you? Yes.

A simple mistake, maybe, but that doesn't matter so much to the sticklers at ABRA. Spokesperson Cynthia Simms explains that "even with [a soft opening] you would need to have applied for what we call a one-day license and [Shaw's Tavern] didn’t do that."

Whether this pre-opening hiccup will delay the Cochran's pending license application is unclear, but D.C.'s Assistant Attorney General Walter Adams calls it "bad news" for the tavern.

A scheduled hearing on the matter was postponed Wednesday until a later date.

UPDATE:  Y&H talked with Cochran again on Friday, and he had some clarification to offer about his liquor license. Cochran explains an ABRA official told him, “I have your liquor license down here, come pick it up." He continues, "And at that point, we’ve got to pick it up with a certificate of occupancy. So we’ve got to go down to DCRA to pick it the certificate of occupancy, which takes a whole day, but whatever.” Unfortunately for Shaw's, the tavern did not pick up either the Certificate of Occupancy or the liquor license. Thus, what Cochran calls, "the misunderstanding".

Photo by Megan Arellano

  • Skipper

    These idiots have absolutely no idea what they're doing.

  • IMGoph

    agreed with skipper. these guys are trying to open in the old firehouse space on north capitol street as well, right?

    c'mon, people, you know there are rules in DC. are they all fair or make sense? probably not, but rules are rules. follow them or get smacked down.

    silly rookie mistakes. easily avoidable.

  • Thirsty

    Rookie mistakes by those who know better.

    Couldn't their local ANC have helped them with a one-day license? Who are the commissioners for that area?

  • Shaw_dog

    Great job DC. I feel safer already. This neighborhood has been plagued with violence and crime since the 80s. Largely it is a land that time forgot. Shaw’s Tavern tries to establish itself as positive community hub and DC goes out of their way to smack them down. Lesson learned: Drinking Mad Dog in the ally is a tried and true neighborhood pastime. Just do not break the status quo by brining charity events in the neighborhood.

  • michael

    Thank god the comrades at ABRA are keeping the community safe from domestic violence prevention.

  • m

    I'm sure Steve May's response will be to blame the community for his ineptitude like he's doing w/ the firehouse.

  • DCBarGuy

    The rules are well-known: you are not allowed to have alcohol present in an establishment, even for a private event, if you have applied for but not received your license.

    Furthermore, to obtain alcohol for a restaurant in DC, the law says you have to buy from a distributor in DC, which requires an account, which requires that the distributor hold on file a copy of your liquor license.

    With that said, where'd they get the booze for their "charity event?" (i.e.: "soft opening" if you read the Yelp reviews)

    Long story short, they probably knew better. Maybe they thought they wouldn't get caught?

  • er

    I would love to read an interview with this guy to have just a tiny tiny glimpse into what the hell we's b een thinking.

  • Jaynuze

    The only place this is bad news for is the neighborhood. New jobs, revenue for the area, more foot traffic, tax revenue for the city ... all on hold. Yes, it was a huge "whoops" ... but as others have mentioned, there are much more concerning things to worry about in our neighborhood than a few open bottles of wine. So they messed up on the firehouse and vented their frustrations in a misguided way ... jeez gang, their taking a risk on a building that's been vacant for AGES to improve the neighborhood. Give them a break.

  • Jerry

    I have eaten at Shaw's twice and found the quality of the food incredible. I have lived in the neighborhood for over 5 years and I dont care if or how some new business messed up by donating alcohol to a battered womens shelter fund raiser. What is this the 1920's and prohibition? Jesus, leave these businesses alone so we can attract even more of them. Does it make good sense to penalize new startups investing in the neighborhood in a positive way? Or would ABRA's time be better spent keping liquor stores from selling beers to blatantly drunk homeless people?

  • Ombudsman

    Sooooo, all of you apologists out there are insinuating that ABC establishments shouldn't have to follow rules?!

    ABC licenses cost money, there are procedures to go through to get them, and there are reasons for these rules. These rules keep the bad actors out of the business, and keep a certain level of control. If people could just do whatever they wanted, and get away with it, you'd have people running illegal bars/clubs out of properties all over the city, maybe even right next door to your house. You'd have people drinking and eating in unsafe/unsanitary environments. You would have an exponential uptick in alcohol related issues.

    There are thousand of competent operators who operate in in good faith throughout the city. They go through the proper channels, pay the appropriate fees(you know, tax revenue that supports your city services), and behave in a responsible manner.

    The cockamamie story Shaw's Tavern is putting out there is absolute nonsense - anyone with any depth of understanding in this business can see right through it, and its embarrassing to have clowns like this associated with our industry.

    To be clear, this is not a story of ABRA unfairly oppressing a new business. This is the story of a bad apple, thumbing its nose at reasonable rules and regulations(that responsible business owners follow), and getting their due. There should be no tears shed for these operators.

  • Bloomingdalian

    Ombudsman - you clearly don't know the area very well, because we have to deal with alcohol and drug related "issues" all the damn time and I promise you, it's NOT due to rebellious new restaurants distributing alcohol. This event they held was private, for charity and a brilliant way to bring people into that part of the city for something other than a funeral! They had a pending license which everyone knows would have gotten approved, so I don't see your point in calling them the bad guys.
    It would be amazing if you could reserve such indignation for the real perils in our community that revolve around kids getting liquor and cigaretts at area liquor stores and "carry-outs".

    Please redirect your indignation at the liquor stores

  • Bloomingdalian

    Woops - that's what I get for typing on an iPhone...
    Anyways, you get the point! 😉

  • Ombudsman

    Bloomingdalian - I'm quite familiar with the neighborhood, this business, this industry, and the way the world turns in DC, so get worse. I will reiterate "anyone with any depth of understanding in this business can see right through" their cockamamie story.

    You want your neighborhood to be better? Then you do so by attracting businesses that aspire to and abide by the same standards and protocols that are expected of good operators. Do you think all the restaurants on 14th St helped solidify the neighborhood by doing whatever they wanted and trying to skirt the law. Look at Adams Morgan - that's what you get with bad operators. What does it say about the state of Bloomingdale when you're saying it's so bad that you should just let this kind of utter incompetency slide in the name of so-called progress. How can you expect someone to run a good business, the kind that you want to elevate your neighborhood, if they can't handle the perfunctory issues of getting their license.

    To be clear, what they are accused of, any competent no-hable, busboy would know not to do. And please don't start with the sanctimonious "it was for charity" bs. I think next weekend Ill rent out the house next to yours, buy a bunch of booze, invite 300 of my closest friends, charge admission, and blast music till 5am - but Ill donate a few bucks to charity. No big deal, right? There's no difference legally between what I described, and what they did. So if you want protection from what I described, then you need to be black and white on what they did.

    My indignation, my contempt, is directed at these no-talent ass clowns who thumb their nose at reasonable regulations, cry foul when caught, and then insult our intelligence by claiming they are being unfairly targeted by ABRA. Believe me when I say it's never been easier than it is now to get the appropriate ABC licensing.

    I never said they were bad guys - they're bad businessmen, but you're an idiot for buying into their baloney.

  • Broads of the Beltway

    Ombudsmen- The event in question was our blog's launch party benefiting Women Empowered Against Violence (recently renamed Washington Empowered Against Violence). The event raised almost $1000 in donations for WEAVE, which provides wonderful pro bono legal and emotional counseling for victims of domestic violence. Instead of blindly calling "baloney" you could have contact us directly (our website is linked within the article above) or WEAVE itself. WEAVE has an impeccable reputation within the DC community.

    There was absolutely no payment of any kind at the event. There was no cover fee. Donations were collected at will. That an event benefiting something so positive for the DC community is now being used to the detriment of a new business in a neighborhood that could certainly use it is simply heartbreaking.

  • ontarioroader

    So 'Broads of the Beltway', was your group aware that the establishment didn't have a liquor license? It's very easy to get a one-day license for fund raising events - it sounds like either the establishment or someone in your group just dropped the ball on this.

  • Janet

    Ombudsman is completely wrong, I am a paralegal who has lived in the Shaw neighborhood for almost 6 years and I went to the ABRA site and its very clear that private parties do not require a license.

    213.1 A license shall not be required for any event, closed to the public, where alcoholic
    beverages are provided gratuitously for on-premises consumption on the host's own premises. A
    license shall not be required if the operator of the premises does not provide services for the
    consumption of alcoholic beverages which are provided, gratuitously, to guests of a private
    function on the premises. Notwithstanding the foregoing, if the operator of the premises
    provides entertainment, food, or nonalcoholic beverages or rents out the facility for
    compensation, a license shall be required."

    Really this is so easy to understand even a caveman can do it!

  • Pingback: Liquor violation keeps Shaw’s Tavern dry || Left for LeDroit

  • murga

    A few months ago at The Firehouse, the same owner held a public event, without an ABC license, to benefit the Main Street organization. There was no evidence of a Certificate of Occupancy, nor a restaurant license. The event was widely publicized and tickets were sold in advance. And there weren't any problems from ABRA or other city agencies...

  • Mario

    If you're opening a TAVERN you need a license; it's really that simple. In fact, one could easily argue that it's one of the FIRST thing you should procure. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living in fantasy land. Just another sign that responsibility is on its way out in DC. Blame others for your screwups; great lesson for the kids!

  • Ombudsman

    I stand corrected - from now on Janet the paralegal should be considered one-stop shopping for all legal interpretations.

    Private parties in your home don't require a special license, that is the distinction they are drawing you twit.

  • Berin Szoka

    I've started an online petition to show local support for Shaw's Tavern. Please take a moment to sign!

  • CCCAPrez

    Two Shaw businesses on the ABRA Agenda for Wednesday, August 10

    9:30 AM
    Show Cause Hearing (Status)
    Case #11-CMP-00118
    Ruppert's Real Restaurant, Inc. t/a The Passenger & Columbia Room
    1021 7th Street NW
    License #72746
    Retailer CR
    Failed to File Quarterly Statements

    3:30 PM
    Fact Finding Hearing
    Case #11-CMP-00314
    Shaw’s Tavern, LLC t/a Shaw’s Tavern
    520 Florida Ave NW
    License # 87014
    Retailer CT
    Operating Without a License

  • Janet

    Ombudsman maybe we should all stop worrying about what the law actually says and just leave it up to your interpretation. Hmmmm? I think NOT!

    These events were hosted by the owner of the building and nothing was paid for; everything was "provided gratuitously for on-premises consumption on the host's own premises." WHAT PART OF THIS SAYS HOME?

    ABRA's complaint on their website says Operating without a license. So what is the jurisdiction here? The definition of operating outside of the exempt area? There is no evidence to support that.

  • Woah

    Hold the phone!!! Janet the Paralegal has spoken! Janet should be GC of the DCRA.

    Excuse me, what unique expertise do paralegals have to qualify them to give legal advice or legal opinions? Dont you shuffle papers for a living? Thought so. Now stop embarrassing yourself.

  • Dre NYC

    I went to the ABRA hearing for Shaw Tavern. While I didn’t stay for the entire process, I did hear most of the testimony from the ABRA investigator.

    Shaw has done a little more then a minor infraction. First, the investigator witnessed multiple days of alcohol being served not just on the night of a benefit. Second, they forged a document to make it appear that they had a license so that wholesalers would deliver alcohol to the establishment. Third, they purchased alcohol from a retail business. Forth, they didn’t have a Certificate of Occupancy when the investigator visited the establishment (that means they shouldn’t have had ANY customers in the place).

    All of these alleged allegations are quite serious not just a minor mistake.

    The lawyer for the owners said they would not try to contradict the allegations from the investigator.

    I’m all for more restaurants in the area but you can’t just start serving alcohol without the proper permits and licenses. I would be scared if ABRA allowed just anyone to operate without making sure everything in a place has been done properly.

  • Ombudsman

    Shocking, can't believe Shaw's Tavern didn't share the whole truth, and that you apologists out there didn't know what you were talking about. Can't wait for Janet the paralegal to spin this now.

  • Megan Arellano

    @Dre NYC has a pretty solid set of cliff notes from yesterday's hearing, but there's also a recap from Young and Hungry up at the blog. [ ]

  • hmmm

    Ombud dude, you may be partially right, but you sure are a whole asshole.

  • Janet

    It is not possible for buildings without a certificate of occupancy to get a DCRA one day special event permit. And it is impossible to get a ABRA temporary sales permit without the DCRA permit special event permit, it says so directly on the ABRA site and application. So no matter what you want to claim or how it is presented these guys through a private party on two occassions, once for the ANC 2C Safety Walk and one for WEAVE (Washington Empowered Against Violence). Both non profit organizations.