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Newly Minted Club Worries Neighbors

Max Skolnik, a Southwest Washington resident and advisory neighborhood commissioner, fought the license change for Zanzibar, now a nightclub.
Max Skolnik, a Southwest Washington resident and advisory neighborhood commissioner, fought the license change for Zanzibar, now a nightclub. (By Dominic Bracco Ii -- The Washington Post)
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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2008

Move over, crab cakes. Hello, club wear.

It just became official that the city's waterfront district, long known for its campy seafood buffets and pungent Maine Avenue fish stalls, can become home to the city's newest nightclub hot spot.

Zanzibar, the titanic, three-story establishment that has been floundering as a seafood restaurant and was in danger of losing its liquor license, reversed its fortunes and won an appeal to become a nightclub.

This despite a crusade by many residents who fought the licensing change and say they worry that it paves the way for their waterfront enclave to become an even larger after-hours scene.

"The differences between a restaurant community and a nightclub community are stark," said Max Skolnik, a Southwest Washington resident and advisory neighborhood commissioner who has been fighting the nightclub. "You look at how nightclub districts operate. Look at Adams Morgan. It's a very different area at night. The crime, the alcohol consumption -- that was never intended for this neighborhood."

Zanzibar's owners asked the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to change its license because it was failing as a restaurant, according to the board's documentation of the hearing.

To keep a liquor license as a restaurant in the city, at least 45 percent of a business's sales must come from food. Zanzibar, with its seven bars, salsa night, DJs and concerts, was making barely 16 percent of its sales from food, according to the documents.

The owner told the board he tried. He said he hired a top chef from a Jamaican resort and tried to promote the restaurant's Caribbean cuisine. But it didn't work, and the fancy chef was replaced by a less celebrated cook.

Residents said the culinary travails of Zanzibar simply mean that the lackluster menu of bar food -- wings, mozzarella sticks and mini-burgers -- flopped.

"In essence, they're being rewarded for having a failed business model," said attorney Richard Bianco, who represented the neighborhood in the alcohol board hearings.

He said he already has heard from lawyers who want to use this case as a precedent to help their clients turn restaurants into nightclubs.

There is a cover charge to eat at Zanzibar, Skolnik said.

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