Restaurants' After-Dark Activities at Issue in Maryland Suburbs

The crowd enjoys the music at My Place Sports Bar, but restaurants that transform into night spots have become an issue in the Maryland suburbs.
The crowd enjoys the music at My Place Sports Bar, but restaurants that transform into night spots have become an issue in the Maryland suburbs. (By Dominic Bracco Ii For The Washington Post)
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

Several restaurants in Prince George's and Montgomery counties have come up with an unorthodox way to stay afloat in today's economy: charge people to come through their doors.

With the new nighttime cover charges, restaurants are adding live bands, karaoke nights and pool tables to lure customers, said Kathie Durbin, chief of licensure, regulation and education for the Montgomery Department of Liquor Control.

"In this economy, people are trying to be creative," she said.

The restaurants are not breaking any regulations as long as they continue to serve food, Durbin said. The liquor control board routinely checks that restaurants, regardless of whether they provide entertainment, take in no more than half their revenue from alcohol sales, she said.

In Prince George's, restaurants with liquor licenses are required to receive liquor control board approval to offer new attractions. But some Prince George's residents complain that a handful of restaurants have essentially turned themselves into nightclubs. They are asking the county to provide better oversight.

"We have to find a better way of managing them," said Phil Lee, president of the Kettering Civic Federation.

Lee said that a nightclub crowd is different from a restaurant crowd and that nightclubs are more apt to breed violence. He cited a shooting this year at Sidelines Restaurant in Largo that left a man dead, linking the incident to a change in clientele.

Del. Michael L. Vaughn (D-Prince George's) said he is concerned that some restaurants have misrepresented themselves to the public.

"I've never been to a restaurant that charges a cover charge," Vaughn said. "I think we need to look at how we are doing things in this particular sector, set some guidelines and regulations."

Adrianne Goode, the owner of Peachez restaurant in Upper Marlboro, said she wants to start offering karaoke and a disc jockey. Currently patrons listen to live jazz music without paying a cover charge.

"The economy has really hurt us," Goode said. "A lot of people are not eating out . . . and on top of that, we are competing with D.C. venues. . . . We need to provide our clients [with] entertainment."

Franklin D. Jackson, chairman of the Prince George's liquor control board, said the board plans to hold public hearings in the next several weeks to discuss the operations of several restaurants, including Sidelines, My Place Sports Bar & Grill in Mitchellville, the Half Note in Bowie and Peachez.


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