Imbibers Get Extra Time To Welcome New Year

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 29, 2006

Liquor stores will be open Sunday in the District, and last call won't roll around until 4 a.m. Monday under a law that the D.C. Council approved nearly three years ago to keep tax dollars in the city on Christmas and New Year's eves.

Normally, Sundays are days of prohibition for hard liquor in the city, and bars must stop serving alcohol by 2 a.m. weekdays. But the council amended the existing alcoholic beverage law to make exceptions for liquor stores when the two holiday eves fall on Sundays. The council also amended the law to give bars, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs extra time to serve drinks on New Year's Eve.

Previously, the council had resorted to emergency legislation to allow exceptions when holiday revelers were faced with closed liquor stores on Sundays. The legislation, however, lasted only 90 days. When the alcoholic beverage law was amended in 2004, the council put in the permanent exemptions.

This is the first year that the exception for liquor stores is being applied. "It's something that only happens every six years, so people don't really notice," said Jeff Coudriet, director of operations for the city's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

Around the city, liquor stores have been advertising the Sunday openings with signs in their windows.

Calvert Woodley Wines and Spirits, one of the largest liquor stores in the city, was open Christmas Eve and will be open Sunday. Business on Christmas Eve made it "worthwhile being open," said Ed Sands, whose family has owned the Northwest store for 40 years. "It was not overwhelming. . . . But we were not disappointed. We expect New Year's Eve will be a busier day than the day before Christmas."

Sands estimated that he will peddle more than 6,000 bottles of champagne this week, and many customers wait until the last minute to pick up the bubbly. "It's human nature," he said.

This year, that means Sunday.

There are 208 licensed, full-service liquor stores in the city, Coudriet said. Sunday sales are voluntary. "They don't have to stay open. We're not forcing them. It's sort of at their discretion," he said.

Dozens of grocery and convenience stores in the city are allowed to sell beer and wine on Sundays, but stores that stock harder spirits are prohibited from Sunday sales. Residents seeking that last-minute bottle had to drive to Northern Virginia, where Sunday liquor sales are permitted.

Coudriet said his agency will send five or six inspectors out to look for infractions, such as alcohol sales to underage customers or service at bars after 4 a.m. Monday.

The agency will also enforce a law that bans multiple drink sales in bars at last call, he said. "If people allow you to order backup drinks, you get drunker," Coudriet said.

Metro is extending its end of train service from midnight to 2 a.m.

And to those counting on more than drinks on New Year's Eve, inspectors also will be out looking for restaurants that lack permits for dancing and disc jockeys. "We have some likely suspects that we will look at," Coudriet said.

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