Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Rare Local Liquor Licenses Up for Grabs


Eugene Ang/The Hoya
Eugene Ang/The Hoya

In a rare move, the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration released four liquor licenses designated for Georgetown Thursday morning, leading to a scramble among area restaurants hoping to snatch up the rare permits.

The four licenses included a single, coveted tavern license, one of only six in Georgetown, which became available when the ABRA approved a license change for El Centro D.F. Mexican restaurant, at 1218 Wisconsin Ave. NW, from a tavern license to a restaurant license in February.

On Thursday afternoon, the tavern license was awarded to Smith Point, an exclusive area nightclub located at 1338 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

According to ABRA restrictions enacted in 1989 as per request by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, there can be no more than 68 liquor licenses, including inactive licenses, in the Georgetown Moratorium Zone and Georgetown Historic District. This includes six nightclub or tavern licenses, the transfer of which is prohibited unless there are fewer than six such licensed establishments in the historic district.

“The purpose of the Georgetown Moratorium Zone is to place limits on the number of alcoholic beverage licenses that exist in Georgetown,” ABRA spokeswoman Jessie Cornelius said.

A tavern license differentiates from a liquor license in that it waves the requirement that an establishment generate at least 45 percent of its revenues from food sales alone.

“The original purpose of the moratorium was to strike a balance between bars, restaurants and retail,” ANC2E Commissioner Bill Starrels said.

However, the limited number of licenses has forced businesses who want to open new restaurants in Georgetown to purchase inactive licenses from restaurants that no longer want them on the secondary market at highly inflated prices, sometimes up to tens of thousands of dollars.

“They’re not supposed to be commodities,” said Starrels, whose district includes the entire Waterfront area and M Street up to 31st Street. “In other words, they’re supposed to be gotten from the city at a nonexpensive price. They should not be selling for tens of thousands of dollars to people — that’s wrong.”

In May 2010, ABRA attempted to combat the problem by releasing seven licenses that had been in safekeeping for a modest filing fee. However, of the seven businesses that attained the licenses, which were available on a first-come, first-served basis, three of the venues never opened. Of the other three, Puro Cafe at 1529 Wisconsin Ave. NW, has since closed, Zenobia Lounge at 1025 31st St. NW, shifted its license to an inactive status to avoid the restrictions that came with it, and Tackle Box, 3245 M St. NW, is facing eviction.

Plans are in the works for restrictions on releasing licenses to the first in line at ABRA’s 14th Street offices but are still in progress.

“Everybody wants to have these licenses put to work. We do not want a repeat of what just happened,” Starrels said.

The last establishment to be awarded a tavern license was Gypsy Sally’s, at 3401 K St. NW, in February. Karen Ensor, owner of Gypsy Sally’s, said that she wanted the license to relieve her business of the arduous bookkeeping involved in food sales.

“We certainly didn’t mind paying the extra license fee to be relieved of all those bookkeeping duties. And it certainly takes any pressure off you to make sure you’re selling enough food, which I know some restaurants struggle with,” Ensor said.

Although she does not advocate a lift of the moratorium, Ensor lamented the disappearing nightlife scene in Georgetown as a result of the moratorium’s restrictions.

“Georgetown has become a little bit too saturated, from my personal perspective, in retail stores, and I think Georgetown’s nightlife has suffered because of that, and it’s not quite the go-to place like it used to be when my husband and I were younger and where there was a vibrant music scene here,” Ensor said.

According to Starrels, however, Georgetown residents would prefer to see more new restaurants than nightclubs.

“People are not scared of restaurants. They want more restaurants. They just don’t want restaurants that become nightclubs late at night,” Starrels said. “Our demographic is such, we have a lot of new residents in Georgetown, a lot of those are in higher-end condos and whatnot and also young professionals living here, they don’t want to be kept up at night.”

The moratorium is currently in effect until February 2016. Information on the three other establishments that were awarded licenses today was not available at press time.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Hoya Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *