In a statement released over the weekend, Hank’s Oyster Bar said that its restaurant at 17th and Q NW was informed by Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board investigators on Friday evening, June 8, that the establishment would be required to shut down operation of half of its outdoor dining patio pending review of a prior ABC Board decision approving termination of a Voluntary Agreement (V.A.) with six area residents.
According to the statement released by Hank’s, “The sudden and unexpected order came without prior notification and in advance of an ABC Board hearing on the matter scheduled for Wednesday, June 13. The visit by agency investigators came in response to complaints by the small group of original licensing objectors.”
Appeal for Community Support
Hank’s owner and Chef Jamie Leeds also posted an appeal for public support on the restaurant’s website and Facebook page. Leeds is asking neighbors and supporters to contact government officials in support of Hank’s pending review before the ABC Board on June 13 (details below).
However, there is no guarantee that a ruling will come quickly and the issue could be costly for Leeds. She told Borderstan in October 2010 that she had already spent $40,000 to $50,000 in legal fees related to the liquor license, V.A. and plans to expand into the space next door.
“Although the appeals court had issued the ruling over three weeks ago, no directive had been issued by either the court or the city requiring any action by the restaurant pending city agency review,” according to the statement from Hank’s. While the V.A. was with six signatories, only two of the original signatories filed the appeal, according to a spokesperson for Hank’s — David Malloff and Lex Rieffel; neither live adjacent to Hank’s Oyster Bar.
In part, Leeds’ letter to the community reads: “If you agree that allowing a small number of individuals to dictate what happens in our community is wrong, please contact ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] (email@example.com), Ward 2 CM Jack Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org), CM Jim Graham (email@example.com), Chair of the committee that oversees ABC, and Mayor Vincent Gray (firstname.lastname@example.org). Let them know that the ABC Board should be urged to make a decision quickly after next Wednesday’s hearing, reaffirming the termination of our V.A.
Also let them know that it is time to stop allowing a few residents to dictate what happens in a neighborhood, particularly when the duly elected ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B] members feel otherwise. The right of a group of 5 residents to hold up a license application should be eliminated from the law. Otherwise, the situation I find myself in will undoubtedly occur again.”
“Having our popular outdoor dining area suddenly shut down without advance warning and as a result of a spurious complaint by the small group of only six objectors who have been harassing the business since we opened seven years ago is shocking,” said Leeds, who was on-site at the time of the surprise visit by city inspectors. “We haven’t even had our ABC Board hearing on this ongoing nuisance protest,” she continued, “and to be told as the summer season begins that we have to eliminate half of our patio seating is unwarranted and unfair,” said Leeds.
In addition to other requirements, the 2005 V.A., between Leeds and six residents regulated the labeling on the umbrellas Hank’s could use on its patio.
Court of Appeals Ruling
Borderstan first reported on in late May on a piece in The BLT: The Blog of LegalTimes that explained how the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued an opinion related to the seven-year-long battle between a group of neighbors and Hank’s Oyster Bar. The opinion states that the ABC Board was wrong in their decision to allow termination of the V.A. Hank’s had operated under based solely on whether doing so would have an adverse impact on the community. (See ABC Board Approves Termination of Hank’s V.A., November 2010).
The Court of Appeals opinion states that the ABC Board was wrong in their decision to allow termination of the V.A. Hank’s had operated under based solely on whether doing so would have an adverse impact on the community.
The court reversed the November 2010 ABC Board decision and ordered them to instead determine if Hank’s made a good faith attempts to negotiate an amended V.A. with the group of neighbors who were parties to the original V.A., which dates back to 2005. Shortly after the ABC Board issued the opinion to terminate the V.A. they also agreed to allow Hank’s to expand operations into adjoining space. (See ABC Board Says Hank’s Oyster Bar Can Expand, December 2010).
V.A.s have become common citywide as a negotiating tool that sets restrictions beyond the standard regulations in exchange for a liquor license. Most frequently the V.A. limits hours of service of alcohol both inside and outside on sidewalk cafes. Back in 2010 Leeds said that the major operational restrictions under the V.A. were that Hanks’s had to stop serving alcohol two hours before the restaurant’s closing time, and that dinner could not be served outside one hour before closing time. The 2005 V.A., which Leeds signed, even regulated the labeling on the umbrellas Hank’s could use on its patio.