But after more than two years of study, the D.C. Council is preparing to consider a bill that aims to bring more order to the city’s liquor laws.
In the first rewrite of alcohol regulations in a decade, council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is pushing an omnibus bill that redefines neighborhood standing to contest liquor licenses, opens the door to Sunday carryout liquor sales, creates a city “noise hotline” for complaints about loud establishments, authorizes “wine pubs,” and legalizes 64-ounce “growlers” that bars and grocery stores can fill with beer for consumption elsewhere.
“This bill is the result of very extensive deliberations,” Graham said. “There are provisions that are significant and merit careful consideration by this council.”
The council will vote on the bill Dec. 4, but its passage is far from guaranteed as politicians struggle over what role alcohol should play in maintaining a vibrant city.
After years of population decline, D.C. officials became more aggressive in the 2000s in marketing the city’s array of restaurants and bars to potential residents.
The strategy has paid off, as thousands of condominiums and apartments have been built near night-life corridors such as U and H streets. In some respects, the city’s recent population trends have outpaced the supply of bars and restaurants.
City planners often cite “bar and restaurant” as a top request from residents in developing neighborhoods.
This year, at the urging of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), the council took another step toward trying to burnish the city’s night-life credentials by permitting bars and restaurants to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. just before federal and state holidays. The new hours took effect last month, the night before Columbus Day, and officials reported relatively few problems from the later drinking. The next test of the policy will be Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving.
But managing residential and economic growth in a city that also hosts tens of thousands of weekend partiers from the suburbs is often a messy affair. Some residents complain about noise, public urination, fights and rats after some bars or restaurants open.
At least in theory, District residents hold considerable sway over an establishment’s liquor license.
Under current law, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission, incorporated civic association, an abutting property owner and a police commander have standing to lodge a protest. The law also allows any five individuals to challenge a liquor license, which has resulted in some protracted neighborhood battles.
This year, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration
forced Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle to close an outdoor patio for five months after a small group of residents voiced concerns about noise, over the objections of the ANC.