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Inaugural 'Last Call' Moved Up

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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

D.C. bars and nightclubs will be allowed to serve alcohol until 4 a.m., not 5 a.m., during inauguration week after the D.C. Council voted last night to modestly scale back the emergency legislation it approved two weeks ago.

Under the revised rules, nightlife establishments will still be allowed to remain open for food service round-the-clock from Jan. 17 to 21. However, they will have to pay a registration fee for each evening they intend to stay open past the normal hours of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends. Nightclubs will be required to pay $250 a night, and bars and restaurants will have to pay $100.

The council initially extended the bar hours at the suggestion of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, whose members want to capitalize on the expected crowds for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration.

But the move drew criticism from community leaders, religious organizations and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), who wrote a letter of protest to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Vincent C. Gray (D), the council chairman.

The senators cited security concerns, saying law enforcement personnel would be stretched too thin.

Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) introduced the revised bill, saying they were trying to address concerns from the community. The 4 a.m. hour matches the extension that the city grants to bars on New Year's Eve.

The restaurant association supported the revised legislation, general counsel Andrew Kline said.

The council voted 9 to 4 to approve the revised regulations, and the same council members who objected to the original bill opposed the amended one: Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large)

Mendelson, chairman of the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said letting bars and nightclubs stay open later than normal is a bad idea. He said law enforcement officials have told him that Obama's inauguration could be the "biggest event in United States history."

Mendelson added: "Our law enforcement personnel will be stretched to the max for the inauguration. Police will not be available to help bars and nightclubs stay open until 4 in the morning."

He noted that Metro has not agreed to run trains past 3 a.m. Jan. 17, midnight Jan. 18 and 19 and 2 a.m. Jan. 20.

But council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), a booster of the extended hours, mocked the concerns raised by Mendelson and others, calling it a "sky-is-falling, Chicken Little mantra."

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, an ecumenical association, said his members strongly oppose allowing nightlife establishments to stay open later than normal.

Pointing to recent violence in Adams Morgan, Lynch said: "It just doesn't make sense, given the situation we're currently facing. There is a lack adequate police currently, and add to that the overwhelming nature of duties they're going to face during the inaugural."


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