From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com.
The neighborhood is heating up in more ways than one this week. Yes, the humidity is unbearable (and it’s only June?), but the battle over patio dining and liquor licensing for a neighborhood seafood restaurant and oyster bar takes the shucking medal.
Jamie Leeds and supporters of her 17th and Q NW establishment, Hank’s Oyster Bar, are taking on the system (and two area residents) – and Leeds is not backing down at this point.
This past weekend, the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board ordered the restaurant to close half of the venue’s outdoor seating, reducing the outdoor dining space from 40 seats to 20. The order came just before Capital Pride Weekend when the 17th Street area is flooded with city residents and tourists alike.
The Friday shutdown occurred without prior notification and ahead of an ABC Board hearing (Wednesday, June 13, at 4 pm, Reeves Municipal Center) on a pending review of an ABC Board decision approving termination of the Voluntary Agreement (V.A.) with six area residents. Two of the six residents, David Malloff and Lex Rieffel, appealed the V.A. termination and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals kicked the case back to the ABC Board. (More on V.A.s are the end of this story.)
Local Organizations Rally to Leeds’ Appeal
Over the weekend, Leeds quickly turned to the public and asked for support on the restaurant’s website and Facebook page. Leeds posted contact information for DC councilmembers, the mayor, and the head of the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), the DC agency which regulates the city’s liquor laws. The ABC Board, made up of mayoral appointees, holds hearings and issues rulings.
The story was quickly picked up by media outlets and blogs, including Washington City Paper, Greater Greater Washington, Washington Blade, MetroWeekly, Prince of Petworth and Eater. Facebook and Twitter have been abuzz over the Hank’s story ever since Leeds sent out her statement and appeal, with the vast majority of postings supporting Leeds and Hank’s. The MetroWeekly article contains a statement from Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), in which Evans voices his support for Hank’s,
Then, on Tuesday, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), the Urban Neighborhood Alliance (UNA) and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) backed Hank’s Oyster Bar and urged members and constituents to show their support. The organizations encouraged emailed their members and followers, asking them to contact local government officials in support of Hank’s and to visit Hank’s (in the meantime) to help the local establishment recover lost revenue and Hank’s legal fees — and to testify at today’s hearing on Hank’s behalf. GLAA posted a piece on its, “How not to run an ABC Board” and UNA posted the appeal on its website.
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 a 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.