D.C. Council member John Ray (D-At Large) has introduced a bill revamping the city's liquor license laws that would prevent nightclubs from opening near residential neighborhoods and would ban nude dancing in all licensed establishments that serve liquor.
About 20 of the 1,590 D.C. retail establishments licensed to sell liquor currently feature nude dancers, according to Ray's office.
"It does not serve the public interest to allow . . . licensees to continue offering this type of entertainment," Ray, chairman of the Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "I am confident that the overwhelming majority of our citizens will support the ban."
The measure, introduced earlier this week, responds in part to residents' complaints about disturbances from noisy bars and nightclubs in their neighborhoods, especially in Georgetown and upper Georgia Avenue NW.
In an attempt to address these concerns, Ray's bill for the first time would set standards for the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to use in determining whether liquor license applications for restaurants, taverns, liquor stores or nightclubs are appropriate for the areas in which they want to locate.
The bill would have no immediate effect on existing nightclubs but would strengthen the hand of residents in challenging license renewals on the grounds of parking problems and noise.
The bill also is a response to a D.C. Court of Appeals ruling last fall that gave a strict interpretation to rules requiring that each restaurant applying for a liquor license must get more than half its revenue from selling meals. The suit was brought by a community group challenging the license of a Georgia Avenue establishment that residents considered a nuisance.
The city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has long issued licenses to nightclubs and bars as long as they have kitchens and say they intend to get more income from meals than drinks.
But most establishments with Class C restaurant liquor licenses now receive more income from selling liquor and food that does not come under the definition of a "meal." Ray said yesterday that about 60 percent of the establishments with Class C licenses could not qualify under the standard as interpreted by the court.
The council has approved emergency legislation to prevent closure of these establishments, which expires Nov. 18.
Initial reaction to Ray's proposal was mixed and tentative, as both industry representatives and community groups sought to determine whether the complicated bill addressed their often conflicting concerns.
One industry representative predicted it could lead to closure of perhaps half of the establishments in Georgetown, while a member of a Georgetown citizens association raised concerns it might result in even more noisy bars opening in the area and catering to teen-agers.
Ray's bill would:Create a new category of license for nightclubs that sell alcoholic beverages and have music, but that no longer would have to serve food. After a five-year transition period, this sort of establishment could not be located within 1,000 feet of a residential zone. Reduce rules on food sales for restaurants to require that at least 30 percent of gross annual revenue be from the sale of food in an attempt to keep current restaurants in business. Set criteria for the ABC to consider in determining whether a liquor license is appropriate in a particular location. Allow challenges on these grounds of appropriateness only every five years, rather than every year, to provide more certainty for licensees.
Staff writer Sharon Walsh contributed to this report.