City Paper Widget

Monday, November 18, 2013

ANC2B, Bar Charley, and the Group of Five

November 18, 3:30pm - Note: In the title and some places in this article, I mistakenly wrote that the name of the bar was "Bar Charlie". Apologies for the error. Thanks to IMGoph for pointing this out. (This blogging platorm does not allow strikethrough in titles.)

Also, there is an update at the bottom of the article.

An obscure part of D.C.'s liquor license protest regulations may marginalize a group that wishes to protest longer opening hours for Bar Charlie Charley (1825 18th Street NW).

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B/Dupont Circle voted unanimously to protest the application by recently-opened Bar Charlie Charley to make a "substantial change" in its liquor license, specifically, to extend its hours of interior operation for an additional three hours a day, until 2am Monday - Thursday, and 3am Saturday - Sunday. The vote took place as part of ANC2B's marathon November 13 meeting.

Bar Charley replaced a Cajun restaurant.
The Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) and a group of five neighbors are also protesting.

For and against at the meeting, and before

First, Bar Charley's owner-operators put the case for extended hours, then ANC2B Chair Will Stephens (Commissioner for district 08, where Bar Charley is located) spoke in favor. Finally, four neighbors (three against, one in favor) also spoke. A woman from the 1700 block of Swann Street said she had 80 signatures on a petition against the extended hours. Her statement against the petition received applause by about 15 people in the audience.

Many other members of the community wished to comment but were not given permission to do so because of time constraints -- the ANC still had petitions from other restaurants, as well as foreign embassies and multiple property developers, to consider. Representatives of all these groups watched and waited, displaying various degrees of patience.

Meanwhile, an ill-tempered anonymous leaflet of leading "questions" for Stephens was distributed at the meeting. Example questions: "...why did you personally deliver leaflets supporting an establishment with pending business before your committee?" and "...why are you mischaracterizing the customary operating hours of our neighborhood restaurants... ?"

Stephens' web site also had hosted expressions of community opposition, both polite and not. Nine days before the ANC meeting, Stephens authored an article about Bar Charley's request. At the end of the article, Stephens said he planned to support the request for longer hours. This post drew community comment. In one comment, one anti-Bar Charlie Charley post called Stephens' claim of divided community opinion on Bar Charley "a blatant lie". Another respondent wrote to "respectfully disagree". Still another supported Bar Charley.

There was an additional comment made on Stephens' blog after the meeting: 
I would have loved to state [my opinion] in person at the meeting yesterday. Curiously enough there was not enough time for me to speak, after ample amount of time was dedicated to statements from all three owners of Bar Charley and yourself, all in defense of the license application.
Taken together, the anti-Bar Charley faction seemed determined to imply Stephens had made up his mind before the meeting and was doing Bar Charley's bidding.

Nevertheless, the ANC (including Stephens) voted to protest the application. The reason, according to a tweet from ANC2B Commissoner Kevin O'Connor (district 02): "Because DCCA & a group of 5 or more are protesting, we thought it best to be at the table. The owners [of Bar Charley] welcomed the idea."

The obscure rule

In addition to ANCs, two other types of entities can protest a liquor license application, renewal, or change. One is a registered community organization, which must hold public meetings and meet other requirements. The DCCA is such an organization. Its protest will having standing with D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), next to the ANC's protest.

The other type of entity that can protest is a group of five or more. This case also has such a protesting group.

There is an obscure ABRA rule part of D.C. law that says an agreement between an ANC and a liquor-licensee "bumps" a group of five's protest. To put it another way: If the ANC enters into a agreement with an establishment about opening hours, the group of five's protest will be dismissed automatically, whether the group of five is satisfied with the agreement or not.

If the recent behavior of Bar Charley's protesting neighbors is any indication of the character of the group of five, the group of five is more strongly opposed to the extended hours than ANC2B is. It may be difficult for Stephens and the ANC to convince the group of five and their allies that the ANC is really acting with their interests in mind.

A November 14 blog post by the web site Barred in DC provides more detail about this vote.


After publication, I received the following information from ABRA. The section of the law which allows an ANC to "bump" a group of five is highlighted:

The law was recently updated by the Omnibus Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Emergency Amendment Act of 2012 as follows:

(w) Section 25-609 is amended as follows:
 (1) The existing language is designated as subsection (a).
 (2) The newly designated subsection (a) is amended as follows:
 (A) Strike the phrase “if any,” and insert the phrase “if any, and serve
a copy upon the applicant or licensee,” in its place.
 (B) Strike the phrase “Whether or not” and insert the word “Whether”
in its place.
 (C) Strike the phrase “The applicant” and insert the phrase “The
applicant or licensee” in its place.
 (3) A new subsection (b) is added to read as follows:
 “(b) In the event that an affected ANC submits a settlement agreement to the Board on a protested license application, the Board, upon its approval of the settlement agreement, shall dismiss any protest of a group of no fewer than 5 residents or property owners meeting the requirements of § 25-601(2). The Board shall not dismiss a protest filed by another affected ANC or by a citizens association meeting the requirements of § 25-601(3) upon the Board’s approval of an ANC’s settlement agreement submission.”


  1. I was at the meeting. While I sympathize with the neighbors, they lost my sympathy with some of their behavior. Snark and dramatics are useless. Grown ups on both sides need to work out a compromise that allows the business to survive without infringing on the night time peace of the neighbors. The whole point of living in the city is to have fun places to go nearby--but that comes at a cost of the hassle of living next to a business. You can't have it both ways. Find a compromise folks, or there will be empty store fronts around the corner from your house.

  2. It's strange how the name of the business in this article switches back and forth between two different spellings.

    1. Apologies for the error. Will attempt more vigilant copy editing in the future.

  3. There is absolutely nothing "obscure" about the ABC licensing rule that dismisses a "Gang of 5" protest once an agreement has been reached with the elected ANC. The full DC Council passed legislation last December that the mayor subsequently signed to intentionally and specifically make that change in a high-profile re-evaluation of the law. Elected officials are finally beginning to "clean up" the oversized influence of ad hoc "Gladys Kravitz" brigades and ensure equitable application of liquor licensing. These reforms should continue and expand, requiring any citizens groups and all residents to present their concerns to the ANC before its advisory vote for ABC Board consideration. No more special powers of intervention for the noisy few!

  4. I agree that a compromise is always the best solution, but what if the status quo IS the result of a compromise. The location where Bar Charley is located has never been one for late night entertaining. And NOT staying open late HAS been well established in practice there as evidenced by every other alcohol serving establishment in that strip ... even the ones who DO have a license to open later, or as late as the hours that Bar Charley is requesting, don't. This, seems in my perspective at least, IS the compromise that has been worked out between the alcohol serving establishments and the adjoing neighbors. And it's a compromise that's been working. Why should a new operator be allowed to come in and nullify that very effective compromise? Who will benefit, other than that new operator?

    There's no disputing the fact that late night venues inherently produce externalities that impinge on the neighbors' rights to peace, order, and quiet. We've all been there, and we're not being honest if we don't admit that people coming out of a bar at closing time are going to have a lot more effect on the neighbors than people coming out of that same bar earlier in the evening. It's inherent both to the way people tend to act at the end of a long evening of drinking AND inherent to the fact that this happens to be the time when the neighbors are most likely sleeping and susceptible to being woken by sounds that seem to get magnified at that late hour.

    It's not like Bar Charley didn't know that the compromise reached there between the alcohol serving establishments and the neighbors didn't exist. Hopefully, they did their research before buying, and even if they didn't, they should have at least had an inkling it existed given the shorter operating hours they bought when they took over the space and its existing liquor license. Of course, if they're good business people, as they seem to be, they'd also know that getting into that space and a license license cost them a whole lot less than a similar space with a license right up the road in Adams Morgan where there is no such compromise in place between neighbors and alcohol serving establishments. Which leads me to think they purposely bought (or rented) there with the intention of doing exactly what they're doing. Buying low and then changing the rules of the game, all for their profit. Shame on them for not wanting to be good neighbors.