This evening the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6A Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Committee–which has jurisdiction over the eastern end of H Street–held a discussion about possibly changing its policy that currently prevents restaurants and bars from operating public space patios (i.e. patios on the street) and rooftop decks after 11pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends. While the D.C. Government’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) handles alcohol licenses in the District, ANCs play a very important role in the process through recommendations to ABRA and by holding hearings to help restaurants/bars and residents come to mutually beneficial agreements that will help the establishment thrive in the community without negatively affecting its neighbors. The current policy of ANC 6A is to require restaurants and bars to agree to not serve alcohol on patios and rooftops late at night even though the establishment can stay open until much later in the evening. This meeting was to discuss a potential change to that policy.
Over 20 residents showed up to protest any potential change vociferously. Most of the comments were similar: allowing later hours outdoors would create more noise and prevent residents from sleeping, later hours would encourage more drunken debauchery along H Street and in the surrounding neighborhoods, and that there was no benefit to the community for allowing restaurants to have later outdoor hours. Several residents argued that allowing restaurants to have later outdoor hours would lead to an increase in crime.
Only two restaurants testified in favor of changing the current policy to allow for later hours. Joe Englert–owner of several H Street establishments and arguably one of the main reasons that H Street is currently experiencing such a renaissance–countered many of the residents claims that a change in policy would have negative effects. Englert argued that he and other H Street restaurants have invested many millions of dollars in the community and have no reason to be bad neighbors. He offered to install any kind of noise barrier to help alleviate any noise problems that arose in neighborhoods surrounding H Street. After several residents questioned the need to keep outdoor areas open so late (one said that there was no reason for people to be drinking or even out after midnight), Englert pointed out that many young people are going to be out late drinking “because that’s what they do.” He implied that if they weren’t out drinking and spending money on H Street they would be doing it elsewhere around the city which would hurt the H Street economy.
Additionally, one of the managers of Cusbah (1128 H Street) testified in favor of expanding the outdoor hours. He said that H Street was unique compared to many other areas in the city because of the number of outdoor patios and rooftops along the corridor. In his words, “people come to H Street for our outdoor patios and rooftops, that’s one of our advantages.” By not being able to have outdoor areas open as late as in some other parts of the city, it creates a competitive disadvantage for H Street restaurants. Additionally, for Cusbah specifically, it is a small restaurant, so when it is unable to have its outdoor patio open, it cuts its potential revenue in half. Especially in the winter and when it rains, the restaurant loses a lot of potential money that could have been made if the patio was open. The Cusbah manager argued that later hours could help them make up some of this revenue.
After the at times heated debate on both sides, the Committee discussed the issue for a few minutes. None of the Commissioners were in favor of changing the regulation at this time. They then voted 6-0 (with two abstaining) to maintain the status quo and not change the hours.
A couple of other interesting notes from the meeting:
Shelonda Tillman, a candidate for Tommy Wells’s Ward 6 Council seat, testified at the meeting against changing the hours. She appeared not to know who Joe Englert was and went after him directly by questioning what he had done for the H Street community. It seemed very curious that a candidate for the Ward 6 Council seat would not know anything about Englert–the businessman who many credit with the revitalization of H Street.
There was significant discussion about what residents wanted to see develop on H Street. As has been discussed frequently in recent years, many stated that they wanted more retail to open up on H Street and that they wanted more family friendly restaurants.