D. C. government inspectors and police closed three downtown restaurants that were not displaying valid liquor licenses Friday-- only to learn that, at the time of the raids, the proper permits were lying unmailed on a desk in the office of the city's liquor board.
Owners of the establishments -- Numbers, at 1130 19th St. NW; Flaps Rickenbacker's, at 1207 19th St. NW; and the Robin Hood Restaurant at 1422 K St. NW-- were seething yesterday at the foul-up.
They acknowledged that they might have been late in applying for their license renewals. But in such circumstances, establishments are rarely shut down, according to Dwight S. Cropp, a member of the ABC Board who was out of town at the time of the raids and learned of them only yesterday.
The owners were even angrier that they had received no warning until after the close of city business on Friday that investigators from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board planned to shut them down on one of the week's busiest evenings.
"Why not call me during the day?" fumed Grace Rood, co-owner of Flaps. "At 9 or 10 o'clock at night, who can you call? Who can you get in touch with?"
Rood said that when she arrived at Flaps after receiving an emergency phone call about 9 p. m., "There were seven police cars. It looked like we were being raided for drugs, prostitution, gambling -- whatever."
ABC Board Chairman Peter S. Ridley said yesterday that the paper work the owners needed was not mailed to them because it would not have arrived in time for the Oct. 1 deadline. He said the owners, aware that they had applied late, should have known to gone to the board's office to pick up the papers.
The inspectors who shut down the establishments, Benjamin Chaplin and Lee Dove, were technically correct in closing the premises, Ridley maintained. He said the inspectors were not aware that the permits had already been approved.
Despite his assertion that the inspectors acted correctly given what they knew on Friday night, Ridley nevertheless decided on Saturday that Numbers and Flaps could reopen, and an attorney for the Robin Hood Restaurant was seeking similar permission yesterday.
Ridley said he decided to let the establishments reopen "because I thought that was the thing to do under the circumstances."
Larry Zambo, managing partner of Numbers, said that 700 to 800 patrons were eating, drinking and dancing at Numbers shortly after 11 p. m. when Chaplin, the board's chief inspector, arrived with nine or 10 police officers. He said Chaplin told him he would have to close the premises immediately because he did not have a current license posted.
"They said I could close the club voluntarily or they could do it," Zambo said yesterday. "They said if they did it I would be arrested. I said they could do what they wanted. So they went around to the tables and told everybody to put down their drinks and leave. I stayed around after they were finished, but they just left. They didn't arrest me."
Zambo said he believed he lost trade worth $10,000 by having to shut down Friday night. Owners of the other establishments would not estimate their losses.
A spokeswoman for the Robin Hood Restaurant said she did not want to say much pending the outcome of her lawyer's meeting with ABC officials yesterday. But she added, "I'm about ready to sue somebody."
Rood acknowledged that her application for renewal of the license she has held at Flaps for five years was submitted after the Sept. 1 application deadline.
The reason, she said, was that she was out of town when the city's notice to apply arrived. She said she got in touch with her lawyer, Barry Stiller, who was assured by ABC officials that the late application would cause no problems.
Stiller said he talked with Ridley on Saturday and got permission for Flaps to reopen. He also expressed anger yesterday, arguing that all the city accomplished was to lose the sales taxes it would have collected Friday night on the liquor that the establishments would have sold.
In addition, he added, "Some of these people are cutting it pretty tight. They close down for a couple of days and they're out of business. I guess that's what the mayor wants."