But after growing complaints about noise, drunken brawls and other misbehavior, Fairfax County’s Board of Zoning Appeals decided this spring not to renew Fast Eddie’s special dance hall permit.
So the music stopped. Pool tables were hauled, like roadblocks, onto the 960-square-foot dance floor. Aguilar’s staff dwindled to five from 30.
“I thought I was doing everything right,” said Aguilar, 35, a Honduran immigrant who purchased Fast Eddie’s about four years ago. “Now it’s nothing.”
Aguilar blamed the crackdown on a cultural bias against Latino businesses that pair salsa on the table with salsa on the dance floor.
“The county has the power to say whatever they want, and they harass businesses, especially Spanish places,” Aguilar said. “They don’t understand our culture. When we go out, we want to dance.”
But Fairfax officials, noting the diverse county has economic programs encouraging minority-owned start-ups, say they have targeted businesses without regard to the ethnicity of owners or clientele.
Although the conflict between Fast Eddie’s and the county is no different from many others between businesses and regulators, it reflects the tensions that can emerge as Washington’s suburbs become more diverse.
Michel Zujar, president of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said disputes over dance venues have arisen elsewhere where Latino-owned businesses felt singled out for selective enforcement.
“I think the Latino culture is a celebrant culture, and they’re a passionate people,” said Zujar, who opened a Mexican restaurant in Richmond and helped others get going. “But I don’t think that should be confused with violating the rule of law.”
This month, Eileen M. McLane, the county’s zoning administrator, told the Board of Zoning Appeals that her agency has been reining in huge establishments that pass themselves off as restaurants with incidental dancing but operate as virtual nightclubs and disturb residential neighborhoods.
Although the current zoning ordinance says a restaurant’s dance floor may use one-eighth of the dining area, McLane said zoning administrators have been analyzing the overall design and purpose of establishments that morph into nightclubs.
McLane said the ordinance on restaurant dance floors was written in 1975, when most restaurants were small. In recent years, some establishments that call themselves restaurants have become huge, opening the door to much bigger dance floors.
After Fast Eddie’s lost the dance hall permit, for example, zoning officials also frowned on its request to reclassify itself as a restaurant with a dance floor that spans one-eighth of the dining area, or about 625 square feet, as allowed by existing ordinance.