City Paper Widget

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sure, He Can Operate a Nuclear Reactor, But a Dupont Bar?

At an overflow meeting on May 19, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle voted to protest the tavern application of Saloon 45 (1821 18th Street NW). The tavern, if approved, will operate in the former location of a flower shop. It will also be next door to Bar Charley, whose liquor license was the subject of dispute earlier this year -- see SALM blog post of January 16. Many of the same neighbors who protested Bar Charley were back to oppose Saloon 45.

At the corner of 18th and Swann
The applicant has an unusual background for a prospective bar operator. The ANC gave advice to the aspiring proprietor, but he didn't show any sign he would take it.

Proprietor before the ANC

David Stephens came before ANC2B to plead his case for the bar.

"We just want a quiet neighborhood bar," he said.

Stephens said he would be the sole proprietor of the bar, and that he had no experience running a bar. He said that he had been a nuclear reactor operator on the USS Enterprise, a recently-retired US Navy aircraft carrier.

Washington City Paper reported on April 14 that Stephens was also a professional poker player who had who had placed 45th in the 2013 World Series of Poker, winning more than $185,000. ANC2B did not ask him about this, and Stephens did not volunteer this information at the meeting.

At the meeting, Stephens said the architects would start working on the property next month, and their work would take 6 - 8 weeks. Any work on the exterior will have to be considered (separately from the liquor license application) by the ANC and D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) because 1821 18th Street is in the Dupont Circle Historic District.

"It's going to be a total rebuild," Stephens said. "The exterior is going to change."

After the architects do their work and permits are obtained, Stephens said there would be construction for another 10 weeks. Saloon 45 might be ready to open, if all goes well, in the autumn, but a possible opening by the end of the year was mentioned.

The resolution to protest

1821 18th Street is in ANC2B district 08. ANC2B Chair Will Stephens is the Commissioner for this district. No one at the meeting (including me) seemed to notice that the ANC Commissioner and the applicant had the same (very common) last name, but it seems pretty safe to guess that they are not related.

Will Stephens read a resolution protesting the liquor license application of Saloon 45. According to the resolution, the reasons for the protest include:
  • the requested opening hours for Saloon 45 (2am weekdays, 3am weekends) are longer than the hours just negotiated with Bar Charley (11pm weekdays, midnight weekends)
  • it would be unfair to Bar Charley, who just negotiated its opening hours with the ANC, to have an abutting competitor with longer hours.
  • David Stephens had no track record as a tavern operator
  • "there is a substantial concern among neighbors about the loss of retail... to liquor-serving establishments"
  • parking issues
A group of 10-15 neighbors, many of them residents of neighboring Swann Street, came to speak against the liquor license application. Many were among the group that was against longer hours for Bar Charley a few months ago. One neighbor said she was forming a "group of five" to protest the liquor license application alongside the ANC before D.C.'s liquor-licensing authorities. A neighbor called the application "detrimental on various levels" and said it would "create additional noise, trash and vandalism".

"This is a residential area, you know," another member of the audience said. "You're not raising a family here, we are."

At one point, a member of the group of protesting neighbors was lamenting the loss of Sandy's Flowers, the previous occupant, who had been a good neighbor. David Stephens revealed that Sandy of Sandy's Flowers was actually a family relation of his. Sandy, who has operated in the location since 1987, had suggested the location as an ideal location for a bar. There seemed to be a short period of surprised silence from the neighbors at this information.

At the end of the discussion, Commissioner Leo Dwyer (district 07) advised Stephens to try working at a bar for a period before deciding to open one. It would be very easy, Dwyer said, to run through a lot of money very quickly due to inexperience.

David Stephens did not respond to Dwyer's suggestion.

All the Commissioners present voted in favor of protesting the liquor license application.

See an article about this same discussion from the blog District Source here.

See a short April 28 article from the blog Popville about Saloon 45 here.

Due to a heavy workload, the full ANC2B had to have two separate meetings this month. The first one was on May 14.

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