The new director of the District’s inaugural Office of Nightlife and Culture will be in charge of “the after-hours economy” and all that goes along with it — after-hours noise complaints, crime, street cleanup, traffic congestion and, of course, rats.
“This job, man. People are excited about it. Around the country, across the oceans,” said Lindsey Parker, Bowser’s deputy chief of staff. “We’ve received a very diverse group of résumés.”
The concept of having an after-dark government official whose job it is to create order from the chaos of nightlife is not a new one.
Other cities — New York, London, Orlando, even smaller ones like Iowa City — have created such positions. They vary in title (night mayor, night czar, night manager) and responsibilities. Some, like London’s night czar, work only part time.
In the District, it will be a full-time job — with odd hours.
“There’s not going to be a normal schedule,” Parker said. “I’m sure this person will have a lot of meetings between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m., but you’ll also have residents who want to meet up and show you the rat issue they’re seeing in the alley nearby at 9 or 10 p.m.”
Establishments that are open between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m., including bars, restaurants, theaters, clubs and art spaces, will be considered part of the D.C. director’s purview.
The appointee will be expected to work with other organizations, including D.C. police, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works to address the types of problems that tend to arise after dark.
That might mean cordoning off an area where ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft can pick up patrons outside bars without blocking traffic on busy streets, city officials said. Or help ease the transition of a neighborhood that used to be largely residential and is now attracting new businesses — and noisy patrons.
“What we’re looking for in this director is someone who really knows the city, understands its history and its growth, and understands that we’re trying to solve tough challenges in areas that didn’t used to have bars and restaurants operating at night,” Parker said.
Some business owners and neighborhood advocates have expressed concerns over how the new government office will balance the interests of new businesses with the needs of the communities into which they are moving.
“We know change is coming to D.C. so, to the extent that our government can be focused on how this change takes place and how we can make it work for everyone, we should be,” said D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), who introduced a bill to create the Office of Nightlife and Culture about a year ago. “Our city is growing by leaps and bounds every day. . . . This person can help us figure out how everyone gets something that’s close to what they want.”
In Ward 4, Upshur Street NW has transformed from quiet neighborhood center to a popular strip of bars and restaurants that offer music, shows and drink specials that attract visitors from around the region.
“We need someone thinking about how we, as a government, can address the nighttime economy but also address neighborhood concerns from people who may or may not want to see that kind of change occur,” Todd said.
The number of restaurants and bars in the District has ballooned from 1,729 in 2006 to nearly 2,300, according to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The District’s hospitality industry is valued at about $7.5 billion annually, Parker said, and more liquor licenses are being requested every day. Over the past 10 years, the number of drinking establishments in the District has grown by 50 percent, she added.
Bars and restaurants made about $3.8 billion in revenue in 2017, and employ about 9 percent of the city’s workers. Over the next decade, that number is projected to grow by 6 percent, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Nighttime liaisons in other cities, such as New York’s night mayor, Ariel Palitz, come from the club and bar scene. Palitz used to own a nighttime haunt called Sutra that shut down after a 10-year stint.
One of her primary mandates has been to explore quality of life issues, including the DIY club scene in New York in which makeshift clubs are set up in unconventional spaces for one or several nights. The DIY venues often operate on the margins of legality and are increasingly being shut down due to their lack of proper licenses.
D.C. officials declined to say whether they were seeking a bureaucrat or a barkeeper to run the office, but Parker noted the résumés submitted so far have come from people of all walks of life.
Todd added that the ideal candidate would probably have a mix of experience in the public and private sectors.
The job — which comes with an annual salary of $97,434 to $118,000 — will be filled as soon as possible, Parker said.
The District’s newest director will oversee a commission of five volunteers, who will help direct programs and decisions around D.C. nightlife.
Just don’t call him or her the “night mayor.”
“We’ve already got a morning, noon and night mayor,” Parker said. “We’re not looking for another mayor. But we are looking for a director.”
Bowser (D) signed a bill Thursday to create the Office of Nightlife and Culture. The bill now heads to Congress for a 30-day review.