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Hank’s Forced to Shut Half of Patio; Owner Seeks Community Support

by Borderstan.com June 11, 2012 at 7:40 am 1,918 13 Comments

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.”

"Hanks Oyster Bar" Borderstan" "Q Street NW"

1624 Q Street NW: Hank's Oyster Bar was ordered Friday evening by the city to close half of its outdoor patio area. (Luis Gomez Photos)

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 protected]), Ward 2 CM Jack Evans ([email protected]), CM Jim Graham ([email protected]), Chair of the committee that oversees ABC, and Mayor Vincent Gray ([email protected]). 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 History

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.

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  • C’mon YIMBYs! Good luck, Ms. Leeds.

  • Ridiculous

    My emails will be going out today! Good luck, Hank’s!

  • 17thStreetRes

    This almost seems like a vendetta now against Hank’s. I can think of some other places that were never forced to sign voluntary agreements… where people drink publicly on the sidewalk… cause tons of noise into the early morning hours. Yet somehow ABRA found time to pay call to Hank’s last Friday. BTW, I am NOT talking about any of the gay bars on 17th Street.

  • Albert

    FYI, I e-mailed the group and received a a reply from mr. moosally stating: “Thank you for your e-mail. A public hearing regarding this matter is scheduled before the ABC Board on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 4 p.m.”

  • DupontRes

    God, can people move to Virginia if they want peace and quiet. It’s the city. Get over it. It isn’t like it’s open until 3am.

  • Doug Rogers

    As the current President of DCCA, I would like to make it clear that DCCA did not have anything to do with ABRA’s action. We did not participate in the appeal process in any fashion. In 2008, ABRA did not even recognize our former presdent at the time as a protestant, so DCCA was not a party to the action in 2008. I am personally outraged by ABRA’s closing of Hank’s patio and wrote Mr. Moosally the following this morning. I also cc’d Mayor Gray, Jack Evans and Jim Graham.

    “Mr. Moosally – I am outraged by your agency’s closing of Hank’s before the Capital Pride Parade. A re-hearing has not even been held on the VA at Hank’s, and you allowed your agents to shut down the much loved business of someone in the GBLT community. And on the day before Capital Pride weekend to add insult to injury…truly despicable.
    What is even more infuriating is that 2 toxic people in our neighborhood are allowed to shut down part of a legitimate business and force them to spend thousands in legal fees. Their ability to do this should be eliminated from DC law, and I urge Mayor Gray and the DC Council to reform DC archaic regulatory laws.
    In addition, I strongly urge ABRA to make a ruling on Hank’s VA as soon as possible after the hearing on Wednesday, or the DC Government should consider paying for the owner’s lost business.

    Doug Rogers”

  • There’s a pearl waiting inside all of this: Jamie Leeds is going to shuck herself some NIMBYs.

  • Candida

    Just fired this off to all of the emails provided – hope it helps!

    Dear Mr. Moosally,

    I write to express my outrage at your agency’s closing of half of the outdoor patio at Hank’s Oyster Bar, just as the summer season kicks off. A re-hearing has not even been held on the termination of the V.A. at Hank’s and it appears that the voices of less than a handful of neighbors are given sway over a majoirty opinion that has welcomed Hank’s, patronized their business, and enjoyed their presence in our community and all that they have contruibuted to our neighborhood since opening.

    Hank’s does NOT qualify as a nuisance establishment that lets inebriated or otherwise unruly offensive customers out into our neighborhood streets. Hank’s has been a wonderful addition to our neighborhood and many of us are, frankly, incredulous at the level, persistence and degree of harassment they have been subject to in this matter.

    I strongly urge the ABC Board to reaffirm the termination of Hank’s VA as soon as possible after the hearing on Wednesday, June 13. It is time to stop allowing a few residents to dictate what happens in a neighborhood, particularly when the duly elected ANC 2B members have already expressed their preference otherwise.

    – Candida L. Mannozzi –

  • Bobby

    Submitted today:

    This is a request that the ABC Board be urged to make a decision very quickly after Wednesday’s hearing about the status of the license/termination of the Voluntary Agreement for Hank’s Oyster Bar. I hope you all recognize the value that an establishment like Hank’s brings to the neighborhood and allowing a few residents to allow this to occur (and to impact the investment that the owners and investors of Hank’s put on the line) is outside the bounds of fair play and reflects, not just poorly on them, but for those in DC leadership posts who are in the position to do something about it.

    I find this example to be particularly offensive because of what a great addition Hank’s Oyster Bar has been to the neighborhood since it opened and because the owners made the investment to expand into the eyesore storefront that was next door. That being said, the frequency with which these instances happen in relation to the ABC board is quite frankly embarrassing to the District. Who wants to live in a place that tamps down the ability of businesses like Hank’s to function? When I hear stories like this, combined with the crime that continues to happen in the neighborhoods all around this area where increased foot traffic would surely serve as a deterrent, I wonder what plan our leaders really have for our community development. I feel like the answer is “not much of one.”

    While there is a larger issue here, at least please in this instance push for a quick resolution.

    Thank you-
    Bobby Jasak
    Ward 1

  • Ellen Kirsh

    Sent to Jack Evans

    Hi Jack. I was delighted to meet you recently at the D C C A meeting, and remind you that I am a friend of Jack Davies and consequently became a supporter of you in the last election. Please help Jamie Leeds make her expanded restaurant a success by allowing her to operate in a commercially reasonable manner. I live 1/2 block from Hank’s, the best restaurant in our neighborhood. There is no negative impact from the increased hours or size of Hank’s since the expansion. Without a doubt, Hank’s is an asset we should protect, it contributes significantly to our quality of life here in DuPont circle. A small group of oppositional people are preventing Hank’s from operating outside the scope of an antiquated voluntary agreement. This should not be allowed to happen.  Our neighborhood must support our businesses on 17 th Street, which now face increased competition from 14th St and U St development. Please give us your help. Ellen Kirsh

  • Albert

    So, my question is this. If all of the relevant government bodies and elected officials have supported Hank’s patio, why did this happen? Basically, what loophole did a small amount of people exploit to get this to happen? And, subsequently, how can those of us who care stop it from happening in the future? Just seems odd to me.

    • Randy

      Will someone please list the names of the 6 individuals? They are a toxic element in our community and we should be aware of who they are.

      • Jon

        David Mallof and Alexis Rieffel


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