Branding liquor a "scab of eternal leprosy," the aging Baptist Minister told a crowded D.C. City Council committee hearing that a proposed extension of liquor store hours here will surely "corrupt the citizenry" and bring the city closer to ruin.
"How long, oh Lord, how long?" intoned the Rev. Andrew Fowler, head of the Committee of 100 Ministers, "before the government will move the infamous solicitations?"
Fowler was one of a wide array of witnesses -- liquor store retailers, civil liberties attorney, gay community representatives and others -- who testified before the council's committee on public services and consumer affairs at the District Building last week on controversial revisions proposed for the city's liquor laws.
Practically everyone took issue with some part of the proposals, an extensive overhaul of the District of Columbia's Alcoholic Beverage Control Act. One proposal -- a ban on topless and bottomless waiters and waitresses with restrictions on sexually explicit entertainment in establishments with liquor licenses -- brought nightclub owners and civil libertarians pleading First Amendment freedoms and charging the council with playing "big brother."
"D.C. is not Silver Spring," said Arthur August, owner of the Silver Slipper Nightclub, boasting his downtown club has "the most beautiful girls in the nation's capital.
"This is the heart of a thriving area. People come down here and they want entertainment. They want show people."
"It's a freedom of expression issue," said Attorney Clarence V. McKee "The government's trying to be your godfather, your big brother."
McKee said restrictions on sexually-oriented activities at nightclubs in the District of Columbia would have "constitutional ramifications" and would keep the city government and night club owners battling court cases for years to come.
The controversial bill, proposed by Mayor Marion Barry at the start of his term in 1979, was intended in part to make D.C. more competitive with suburban Maryland and Virginia liquor stores that have longer hours. According to a spot check, only Prince George's County stores now have longer hours than Washington.
Present liquor store hours in the District of Columbia are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Prince George's County hours run from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. The new D.C. bill would extend city liquor store hours from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
However, city liquor store owners themselves say they do not favor the longer hours. Testified Robert Weitzman, president of the D.C. Retail Liquor Dealers Association: "We have fears of longer hours. The police protection has not been the greatest, and with the budget crunch it won't get any better."
Besides that, Weitzman said, "There's not that much business going on between 6 in the morning and 10 in the morning, and between 9 at night and 2 in the morning to make it an economic advantage" to stay open longer.
The retailers also opposed two provisions of the bills that would create two new classes of licenses for the sale of alcohol in the city. One would be for a one-day seller of beer, liquor and wine -- for cabarets, picnics, private banquets or dances -- where the seller could purchase a temporary license for $100. This provision would in effect legalize what currently is going on in the city while allowing the District of Columbia government to collect a license fee for each event where alcohol is sold.
The other new category licensed under the act would be an establishment permitted to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises without also serving food -- what would be defined as a bar in most cities.
Currently, any place in the city selling alcohol also must have a kitchen and serve food. The bill would limit the number of these establiments to 100 in the city, all located downtown.
Dwight Cropp, an ABC board member, said. The board prefers increasing the number of kitchenless bars to 200 and allowing them to locate in any commercial district rather than just downtown.
Retailers, and nightclub owners generally criticized both new categories of liquor sellers. McKee said that limiting the number of kitchenless bars to 100 would squeeze out blacks and other minorities who want to open such establishments. Also, he said, limiting the new bars to the downtown area would "create a nightclub zone, similar to Boston's Combat Zone and Baltimore's Block."
Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) has said that her constituents, particularly in Georgetown would not want this new type of bar in their area, specifically since entertainment would be allowed "People who want to go to nightclubs can go downtown," she said. "I am utterly opposed to this in areas where residents would be exposed."