With coveted Georgetown tavern license, Smith Point would no longer be a restaurant

Bo Blair
Bo Blair owns several Washington restaurants and nightspots, including Smith Point, Bayou and Jetties. (Photo by Juana Arias for the Washington Post)

This post has been updated.

People have been waiting outside the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration's 14th Street offices for several days, hoping to secure one of the first tavern-class liquor licenses  available in Georgetown in decades. The earliest arrivals pitched a tent, as if they were waiting for concert tickets to go on sale. When Washington City Paper asked the men who they were working for, they declined to answer.

Now we know: They were there on behalf of Bo Blair, the owner of Smith Point. Blair says the men arrived Monday at 8:30 a.m.; City Paper says they got there on Tuesday. Either way, they were the first people in line for a license that will be given on a first-come, first-approved basis, and Smith Point is now in pole position to become a tavern instead of a restaurant. "It relieves the pressure of having to meet the food minimum, and besides that, [Smith Point] will be the same," Blair said this morning. "It makes the business easier."

Update: According to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a tavern license for Smith Point is not be a done deal. After Smith Point's application is officially reviewed, there's a 45 day "public comment period," in which the neighborhood can protest the license change, and then the change from a restaurant faces final approval from the ABRA Control Board. "We won't know for several months" whether Smith Point will definitely receive the license, says ABRA spokeswoman Jessie Cornelius.

Smith Point has technically been operating as a restaurant since the mid-2000s, though at least some of the people who came to dine there did so in order to get into the hopping late-night party, which is famously limited only to those on "the list" and their guests. This exclusivity made Smith Point the hottest bar in town for young Republicans during the Bush years, when first daughters Jenna and Barbara were spotted there on numerous occasions.

The number of tavern licenses in Georgetown is capped at six, to encourage businesses to operate as restaurants instead of bars. Besides Smith Point, the current tavern license holders are Chadwick's, Gypsy Sally's, Modern, Rhino Bar and Blue Gin. (The latter is closed, so the license could theoretically be used or sold.)

Smith Point's conversion to a less-restrictive tavern license means there will be an opportunity for another restaurant to begin serving alcohol in the future. Applications for three other available restaurant-class liquor licenses for Georgetown were accepted this morning; Cornelius says six businesses filed paperwork for the three slots.

Fritz Hahn has written about bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. A product of Prince George's County public schools, Fritz majored in journalism at the University of Maryland and lives in the District.
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