District Raises a Glass to History
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
In the mood to celebrate President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration at a D.C. bar? For four days in January, they'll be open 24 hours a day.
Under emergency legislation approved by the D.C. Council yesterday, any District establishment with a liquor license, including restaurants and nightclubs, will be allowed to serve alcohol until 5 a.m. -- three hours later than usual -- and serve food round-the-clock from Jan. 17 until the morning after Obama's swearing-in on Jan. 20.
The bill, an idea of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, was introduced by council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the nightlife-heavy neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant.
The council approved the bill, 9 to 4, with Graham voting against it after the measure, which originally excluded nightclubs at Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's request, was revised on the dais to include them. Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) also voted against the bill.
With large crowds expected to come to Washington for the inauguration, the city must be able to meet their entertainment demands, Graham had said while introducing the measure. But Mendelson, chairman of the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, countered, warning of increased crime, violence and drunken driving.
"I know a lot of people are excited about the inauguration, and I share that excitement," Mendelson said. "But there are very few people I know of out partying at 5 in the morning or 4 in the morning who aren't getting drunk. I think there are going to be consequences to that from a public safety and public order point of view. It's not a good policy to be supporting."
In an ordinary week, bars and nightclubs can serve alcohol until 2 a.m. weekdays and until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The only day the city regularly extends drinking hours is Jan. 1, when bars can serve alcohol until 4 a.m.
The legislation quickly drew the ire of civic leaders, who complained that the council did not seek public input.
"I see the potential for why you'd want to do it, in terms of this being a historic election, but to just throw this down on neighborhoods?" said Bryan Weaver, head of the Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commission. "To have 3 1/2 days of 24-hour service without any input from the community -- there's going to be hell to pay from a lot of neighborhood associations."
But Andrew J. Kline, general counsel for the restaurant association, said Obama's inauguration is a once-in-a-lifetime event worthy of special rules. He said spontaneous celebrations broke out on city streets until the early morning after Obama won the general election Nov. 4.
Kline said it was important for the council to pass the legislation quickly because bars and restaurants are booking private parties for the week.
"It makes sense to have places for people to go when they're in a celebratory mood," Kline said. "It's just a few days. All of us are going to be somewhat inconvenienced, but that's outweighed by a wonderful historic event."
The move is not without precedent in other cities. During the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., this summer, eight bars and restaurants were allowed to remain open two extra hours, until 4 a.m.
Whether the D.C. law will require other agencies to alter their plans remains uncertain. Metro said it would extend service hours on Inauguration Day, from 4 a.m. Jan 20 to 2 a.m. Jan. 21. Otherwise, the transit authority will run regular service, closing at midnight weekdays and 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Graham, a member of the Metro board, said the agency is working on a plan to further extend hours of service.