City Paper Widget

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who Can Serve Alcohol in DC without a Liquor License?

DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) decided on January 21 to schedule a hearing on the issue of whether WeWork is required to obtain a liquor license, according to a January 26 email from Jessie Cornelius, an ABRA Public Affairs Specialist. A date for the hearing has not been scheduled.

Detail from last year's letter to the Hamiltonian Gallery
WeWork, which located in the Wonder Bread Factory (641 S Street NW) in Shaw, is a multi-city company that provides office space for start-ups and small companies. It provides beer free of charge to its tenants, along with water, coffee, tea, and soft drinks.

In a separate SALM post today, it was reported, on the same day as the ABRA decision, WeWork got the endorsement of the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street for both a temporary liquor license (effective sooner) and a permanent liquor license (takes a while to obtain).

A team of representatives from WeWork explained the events which had led to their appearance before the committee. In an effort to comply with the law after a visit by ABRA enforcement staff, WeWork applied for a category CX liquor license. A CX liquor license, according to the ABRA web site, "[p]ermits multipurpose facilities including theaters, museums, sports facilities, passenger-carrying ships and trains to sell and serve beer, wine and spirits." This category license would cost $1,950 and expire on March 30, 2016. It was reported at the meeting that ABRA then told WeWork it would need a category CT, or tavern, license, which could cost up to $3,120 and expire on September 30, 2016.

Committee member Joan Sterling suggested a liquor license was not necessary. (Sterling is also President of the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance.) Sterling said there was new liquor-license-related rulemaking in the works which would make clear that businesses in this circumstance do not need a liquor license.

Sterling also said a similar set of circumstances existed last year when the Hamiltonian Gallery (1353 U Street) was visited by ABRA staff who informed the Hamiltonian it would need a liquor license to serve complimentary glasses of wine and beer at receptions that occurred once every six weeks -- see SALM blog post of July 22, 2014.

ABRA, Sterling said, decided that the Hamiltonian Gallery did not need a liquor license. A note on page 15 of a 28-page .pdf document here confirms that, on October 1, 2014, ABRA "determined no license was necessary". A transcript of the October 1 meeting (see page 17 of another 28-page .pdf here) shows DC liquor-licensing authorities voting unanimously that a liquor license was not necessary in this case "provided they [i.e., the Hamiltonian Gallery] comply with DC Code Section 25-102". ABRA spokesperson Cornelius confirms in his email that the Hamiltonian Gallery had received a letter signed by ABRA Director Fred Moosally stating a liquor licensing was not necessary.

Cornelius also explained in his email that DC ...
... laws and regulations provide that an entity—not a restaurant, tavern or other establishment that serves food, non-alcoholic beverages and/or provides entertainment—does not need to obtain a liquor license to provide alcoholic beverages gratuitously. A temporary liquor license or a caterer’s liquor license would still be needed for any event at a facility where:

(1) Alcoholic beverages are being sold or not provided gratuitously to guests;
(2) There is a cost, such as a cover charge or a requirement to purchase tickets to attend the event;
(3) The facility is being rented out for compensation;
(4) A caterer or bartender has been hired or is being paid to serve alcoholic beverages; and/or
(5) Non-alcoholic beverages, food, or entertainment are being sold or being charged for at the event.
At the January 21 ANC1B committee meeting, Sterling moved the ANC write a letter to ABRA stating the ANC does not believe a license is necessary. The motion was passed, and will be probably considered at the next meeting of the full ANC, scheduled for Thursday, February 5, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets) -- unless ABRA first makes a decision which renders the point moot.

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