For the first time in 20 years, Georgetown may be getting a new bar

The District has long declared a moratorium on new liquor permits in Georgetown, as well as Adams Morgan, Glover Park and Dupont Circle. (Terry Kole/AP)
November 17, 2013

For the first time in nearly two decades, one new or existing bar in Georgetown has a shot at securing a coveted alcohol license.

David Ensor really hopes it is his.

Gypsy Sally’s, which Ensor opened with his wife in September, is one of two Georgetown businesses as of Thursday afternoon that had filed applications for a tavern alcohol license.

District rules mandate that no more than six Georgetown taverns or nightclubs hold an alcohol license at any given time. One just came available with the closing of Saloun on M Street NW, according to the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

Aside from the one available license, the District has long declared a moratorium on new liquor permits in Georgetown, as well as Adams Morgan, Glover Park and Dupont Circle.

Gypsy Sally’s currently has one of 68 restaurant liquor licenses in circulation in Georgetown. But, Ensor says, the restaurant classification comes with food sales requirements that can be cumbersome for a small mom-and-pop music venue.

“It’s not going to change our business one bit,” he said, “but it will free us of the burden of having to report food sales.”

His wife, Karen, saw an e-mail announcing the available alcohol permit Wednesday afternoon. Within minutes, she and her husband had printed out the application, which Karen filled out as David drove to ABRA’s offices.

“She kept saying ‘Drive faster! Drive faster!” David said. “Our hearts were racing — it’s a really big deal.”

Another existing restaurant, Smith Point on Wisconsin Avenue NW, has also submitted paperwork for a tavern license.

New applications are being reviewed in order of submission, according to Jessie Cornelius, a spokeswoman for ABRA.

“This is great for the neighborhood,” said David Nelson, general manager of the Rhino Bar in Georgetown, which has been operating under the same liquor license since 1953. “It has been impossible for new bars to move in.”

In addition to Rhino Bar, the following four taverns also have alcohol permits in Georgetown: Chadwick’s, El Centro D.F., Modern and Blue Gin.

A number of restaurants and bars in Georgetown — including the Guards, a 62-year mainstay — have shuttered in recent months amid rising costs.

“It’s become very difficult for a restaurant to make it here,” Nelson said. “Rents have been reaching $60, $70, $80 per square foot.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local retail, hospitality and banking for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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