Residents, club owner spar over violence, liquor license on H Street corridor

The liquor license for Twelve Restaurant & Lounge expired in September. Twice, the H Street NE bar’s owner didn’t show for renewal hearings, and on May 14, the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ordered all liquor sales to stop.

But on May 21, the club, part of an emerging nightlife strip, was back in business — selling drinks to those who flocked to its dance floor and rooftop deck — with the consent of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

Three days later, on Saturday, two men were stabbed inside Twelve, and one of them was critically wounded in the head. D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier used her emergency powers to close the club for 96 hours. It was the second time she had ordered Twelve closed since March, when another person was stabbed there.

People who live near the H Street corridor say Twelve has used delaying tactics to keep its license while skirting a public hearing and a vigorous protest by neighbors. Jay Williams, the advisory neighborhood commissioner, said the bar is “gaming the system.”

Matthew LeFande, an attorney for the club, denied the allegations.

On Wednesday, hours before Lanier’s latest order expired, the ABC Board voted unanimously to revoke the license. But the owner can petition for a hearing to appeal. The club had been allowed to stay open on a provisional license since September because each time a meeting was missed, the owner filed a new application. And with each application came a new provisional license.

An agency spokesman said the board is looking into some of the issues raised by residents.

“The Board has been concerned with ensuring that applicants are not able to avoid the protest process as a result of not attending Board hearings,” agency spokesman William Hager said in a written statement. “The Board is currently considering draft rules that would address the issue of the applicant failing to attend Board hearings. The draft rules, which will be issued later this year, would be subject to a 30 day public comment period.”

Liquor-control officials said that most delays are routine and that they had never before dealt with accusations that delays were being abused. D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said the issue “really speaks to the effectiveness of this board if they are unable to regulate and oversee these establishments.”

Wells, who chairs the public safety committee, said that if the board lacks “the authority to assure the safety of patrons, then they need to come to the council to get that authority. Otherwise, it seems they’re behaving as if they’re impotent.”

Wells said Twelve has had enough chances. “I think they’ve had every opportunity to be a good actor, and they run an operation that seems to now be inherently dangerous.”

LeFande, the club’s attorney, denied that the delays were anything but legitimate. He said his client missed one meeting because of the flu and another because he had not received notice, both justifiable absences that should not result in penalties.

“I am very concerned that incidents that occur in the proximity of an establishment or inside an establishment are being used as a pretext to blame what some believe are undesirable establishments in gentrified areas,” LeFande said.

According to the ABC Board, Twelve has had repeated problems. Officials said the club was recently fined $2,000 for serving alcohol to minors and has been cited for violating agreements with the board, excessive noise and assaults.

Saturday’s stabbings occurred about 2:25 a.m. A bleeding man ran out of the bar and was seen by a D.C. police officer, authorities said. Police said they found another victim, stabbed in the head, sitting on a chair near the front door. A suspect was arrested soon after.

In her letter ordering the club to close, Lanier cited not only the violence but also allegations that employees had interfered with detectives. An ABC Board report says employees stalled when asked to provide surveillance tapes to police and did not immediately identify people involved in the fight.

LeFande said appellate courts have ruled that unless flaws are found in the way a club implements its security plan, authorities “can’t shut down a club for the illegal conduct of other people.”

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