People Camp Out for Days to Snag a Georgetown Liquor License
Amir Yeroushalmie ate a Big Mac this morning on a chair in front of his tent outside the Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW. He would have ventured farther than the McDonald's across the street for sustenance, but he couldn't leave his tent for too long.
Yeroushalmie, a developer in D.C., is camping outside the government building in hope of snagging a coveted Georgetown liquor license. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration announced last month that it would be accepting applications this Thursday at 8:30 a.m. for a tavern and three restaurant liquor licenses. This is only the second time in almost 20 years, according to ABRA spokeswoman Jessie Cornelius, that a tavern license has become available in Georgetown.
Yeroushalmie pitched his $39 Walmart tent on Tuesday around 8 p.m. He needs a license for a high-end sushi restaurant he's planning to open in a building he already owns along Wisconsin Avenue NW (although he declined to give the exact address). The restaurant has been in the works for six to eight months now, he says, and if this license hadn't opened up, he would have had to purchase a license on the "black market" from an establishment that already has one. Georgetown BID CEO Joe Sternlieb told Y&H a year ago that he’s seen people try to sell liquor licenses in his neighborhood for as much as $100,000, but most go for $40,000 to $75,000.
He was sharing a tent with another party looking to get a restaurant license, and they were taking shifts waiting on line.
"I'm on the day shift," he says. "If I go far, someone's going to take [my spot], and I'm done."
Yeroushalmie wasn't even in the first line. Two other men arrived Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. They wouldn't say who they were representing, only that they work for a man looking to get a license.
Cornelius, the spokeswoman from ABRA, says the applications will be received on a first-come, first-served basis, and that, while the agency is aware that people are already lined up, they will not be looking at the line until 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Georgetown liquor licenses are so coveted because the neighborhood has a longstanding moratorium that limits the number of licenses to 68 within 1,800 feet in all directions of the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and N Street NW. Only six tavern licenses are allowed in the Georgetown Historic District, and tavern licenses are only available to already existing restaurants in that historic district. (A tavern licenses allow establishments to generate less of their revenue from food than a restaurant license.)
Cornelius explains the moratorium hasn't been lifted, but new licenses have become available from establishments that have either had their licenses canceled or changed their classifications. The tavern license, for example, is available because El Centro changed its license classification from a tavern to a restaurant.
Until Thursday morning comes, Yeroushalmie says he and his team will take turns sleeping in the tent and snacking on nuts and Fig Newtons while waiting for an ABRA agent to accept their application.
"I'm having a lots of fun," he says. "This is a nice corner to be on."
Photo by Perry Stein