Sorry, no liquor license for you Saloon 45/Swann Dive

Sorry, no liquor license for you Saloon 45/Swann Dive

In a rare move, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board last Tuesday flat-out denied a tavern liquor license to Saloon 45 (which was seeking a name change to Swann Dive) in north Dupont Circle, as first reported by PoPville. The tiny low-key ground floor bar (840 square feet interior space, with room for 32 folks inside and 36 outside) was fiercely opposed by nearby residents on adjacent Swann Street, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, an aging-in-place organization called the Dupont Circle Village, and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans (who wrote a letter to the Board urging denial, in an unusual move).

David Stephens, a former Navy nuclear electronics tech and professional poker player, had applied for a liquor license in the former Sandy’s Flowers shop on 18th & Swann just five months ago (Stephens is the flower shop owner’s daughter’s brother-in-law), when it was reported by the Washington City Paper that he aimed to open a low-key spot with craft beers but no kitchen. It was quickly apparent that Stephens, with no experience operating or even working in a bar/restaurant, was naive about the liquor licensing process in DC and seemingly shot himself in the foot every step of the way (for example, seeking full hours for patio), leading to this result, anticipated by many who have been following this application. The blog Short Articles about Long Meetings has a couple informative posts with additional background.

In the end, the Board unanimously denied the license (read the decision here) after an eight-hour protest hearing that ended at 12:57am in the morning (the 629-page hearing transcript is here), finding the license application:

inappropriate, because the establishment’s intention of having its entrance on Swann Street, N.W., along with outdoor seating, will bring loitering and other patron-related disturbances to a residential area [and because its] Application and presentation lacked sufficient specificity for the Board to determine whether the establishment could satisfy the appropriateness criteria.

The Board explained that Swann Street is “highly residential” so that a entrance on that street would “encourage [patrons] to loiter on [Swann], like other patrons in the neighborhood” bringing noise and other nuisances to those residences. Furthermore, the planned outdoor seating, according to the Board, “will cause an unreasonable amount of late-night noise to the neighborhood,” noting that Swann Street residents were already disturbed by the (legal) noise emitted from folks on the patio of the adjacent Bar Charley. As a result, the Board denied the license as it would “cause an adverse impact on the peace, order, and quiet” of Swann Street neighbors. Although the Board could have legally granted the license but, for example, required the bar to have an 18th St. entrance and no outside seating, it did not, likely in part because of the bar’s own hearing testimony. Saloon 45’s architect and owner testified that neither of these changes would be viable: an 18th St. entrance would not be possible because the clearance was very low and any alterations to the staircase to accommodate taller people would run afoul of historic preservation restrictions and the bar’s financial success was based on having outside space for much of the year.

Proposed outdoor seating at Saloon 45/Swann Dive

Proposed outdoor seating at Saloon 45/Swann Dive

The 18th Street entrance, deemed unusable without modifications by bar

The 18th Street entrance, deemed unusable without modifications by bar

The Board further found that it could not grant a license because Saloon 45 didn’t “provide the Board with a clear picture of the nature of its operations and business model” during its testimony, such as “key facts [regarding] the maximum occupancy of the outdoor seating area, the layout of the outdoor seating area, the soundproofing features of the outdoor seating area [the architect spoke of either a 7 foot high fence or a 3-foot wrought-iron fence with landscaping], or the establishment’s food service plans.” Stephens himself testified several times that the bar’s plans were a “moving target,” in response to questions about the offerings and why the concept had evolved significantly since the initial license application.

The hearing itself raised some interesting/humorous moments not mentioned in the Board’s final decision:

  • Stephens cited Census demographic statistics (transportation mode, age, income level) about the 20009 zip code (including much of U Street and Columbia Heights) to explain why he chose the space
  • The Swann Street neighbors repeatedly mentioned how upset they were about the new proposed name, Swann Dive, even quoting, in prefacing a question to Stephens, the Webster’s Dictionary definition of “dive” as a “shabby and disreputable establishment.” To his credit, Stephens acknowledged that he understood that the neighbors were concerned about the name, but that he thought it was a “clever name” (I agree) and that it wasn’t going to be a dive as they were “going to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars renovating it.”
  • Several neighbors who testified about the horrors of the bar being “feet away” from elderly folks and “small children walking to school.”
  • The noise from Bar Charley’s patio was repeatedly mentioned, as was Lauriol Plaza.
  • Lots of people seem to think that everyone drives to bars because of the anecdotal evidence of people driving to Lauriol Plaza. Stephens emphasized that he intended to hire local residents to work in the bar; the commissioners didn’t seem to be convinced that they wouldn’t drive. Capitol Lounge told me that very few employees drive/park to get to work at that bar.
  • There were many complaints about late night bargoers (likely from Adams Morgan who couldn’t find parking closer); for example: “noise, fights, loud car radios, drunk patrons, screaming at each other, urinating on our, doorsteps and tearing up our plantings.”
  • Awesome old lady complaining about not being able to get out of her alley due to Lauriol Plaza valet blocking:
    • “At one point recently I just leaned on my horn until I could get the attention of the valet parking and about 15 people who were at the outdoor bar there with a marguerita[sic] said don’t do that, you are bothering us. And I said I don’t give a damn.”
  • The local ANC commissioner put on the record that this neighborhood is Dupont Circle, not Adams Morgan, as the ABRA investigator and some people in DC wrongfully think.
  • Stephens does not have a lease yet; instead he has a letter of intent for a 5 year lease predicated on getting a liquor license.
  • The flower shop owner testified, explaining that his son had first wanted to open a bar after she closed at the end of 2013 but then changed his mind. She claimed that many neighbors had been informed that a bar was opening there, and no one complained. The protestants hilariously tried to damage her credibility by attempting to introduce evidence that she rented out nearby properties without a DC business license; that didn’t go very far.
The Swann Street proposed entrance. Fears of loitering

The Swann Street proposed entrance. Fears of loitering

Swann Street residences across from bar

Swann Street residences across from bar

The public reaction to this liquor license denial has been fierce; many complaints about NIMBYism have been thrown around on Twitter and in the PoPville comments section. I usually side with the bars, but not here; the owner failed to engage the neighbors and importantly didn’t have a clear vision of what the bar would be like. Barred in DC’s unprofessional suggestions for Stephens if he continues to want to open a bar in the space and applies for another liquor license:

  • partner with someone who has at least managed a bar before
  • get a clearer picture of what the food offerings will be
  • commit to offering food until 2 hours before closing (like a restaurant license)
  • offer only can and/or draft beer (bottles are loud when disposed of)
  • commit to 7 foot high fence around patio with landscaping
  • seating only on patio (no standers)
  • voluntarily commit to early closing hours for patio (earlier than Bar Charley, say 10p on weekdays, 11p on weekends) and Bar Charley’s hours for interior (1a/2a)
  • bite the bullet and try to make the 18th Street entrance happen
  • meet repeatedly with ANC commissioners and other local bar owners to figure out what works

If not, don’t be surprised if this place becomes an ice cream shop, which is a concept also brought to the owner of the flower shop/building; no liquor license required.

Another view of back patio. Bar Charley's patio is covered by white tent

Another view of back patio. Bar Charley’s patio is covered by white tent

Another view across Swann of the bar

Another view across Swann of the bar

 

`

About these ads
Whole Foods Foggy Bottom - GW BREW

Whole Foods Foggy Bottom – GW BREW

The headline says it all. In DC, the going rate for a craft beer on draft at a bar is usually $7 (often $8 or more). And more often than not, these beers are poured in smaller 10 or 12 oz. snifter or tulip glasses. However, at the ground floor coffee/beer bar at Whole Foods Foggy Bottom (also known as “GW BREW”), oblivious to the GW undergrads in line for their espressos and kombuchas, full pints of six different craft beers run $3 or $4 all day long. The beers are no slouches either; I recently sampled the excellent local Belgian dark Atlas Brew Works Town & Country & the Black IPA DC Brau Daughters of Poseidon beers while picking up some produce. Two Brooklyn Brewing seasonal beers, along with an Ommegang brew, currently make up the rest of the draft list.

Details on the growler happy hour

Details on the growler happy hour

Other than your couch or at some of the DC breweries, you might be able to beat that, but this is likely the cheapest place to drink draft craft beer in DC. While Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont, which admittedly has a better atmosphere and sports plenty of outdoor seating, does sell all of their local drafts for $4, not all of the pours are 16 ounces. For growlers at WF Foggy Bottom, the deals are even better-64 oz. ones go for $10-12 with an additional $2 in savings during happy hour 5-7p weekdays. The bar is open from 10a-11p everyday and free parking is available in the downstairs parking garage (making it convenient for growlers). There are a few chairs around the bar and a few high tables to put your beer near the beers for retail sale, but you can also take your beer (in a glass or plastic cup, your preference) with you while you shop. I’ll still be frequenting Glen’s, but I may mix it up every once in awhile to come here. Whole Foods Market Foggy Bottom website, TwitterFacebook,  2201 I St. NW, open 10a-11p everyday, est. 2013.

IMG_20140914_211716_159

high tables to sit your beer with the plethora of PBR in background for GW bros

IMG_20140914_211738_345

Parlay Sports Lounge (Parlay’s Twitter)

Dallas Cowboys fans again have a place of their own to watch games in DC. As first reported by PoPville, Parlay Sports Lounge (the website calls it Parlay Gastropub) soft opened recently in the recently shuttered Malaysia Kopitiam space in lower Dupont/Midtown next to Sign of the Whale on M Street NW. Barred in DC has learned that this spot is from the operators of the nearby Cowboys watch spot Mezza Luna, which itself closed over two years ago. Stay tuned for more information. (1827 M St. NW)

Ceiba Set to Close September 27th

Posted: September 13, 2014 in DC Bar News
Ceiba's bar

Ceiba’s bar

Ceiba, the pan-Latin restaurant & lounge located on 14th Street downtown, will shutter its doors after Saturday, September 27th. The closing, which was announced on its Twitter and Facebook pages today, comes 11 years to the month since the popular spot opened in September 2003.

The lounge was notable for its solid food & cocktail happy hour specials and having one of the first late night happy hours in DC. No word whether its operators, the Passion Food Restaurant Group (which includes DC Coast, Acadiana, District Commons, Burger Tap & Shake, and Penn Commons), will operate a new concept in the space.

DC Beer Week yet again has a ton of awesome events that highlight what a great beer city DC has become (read how DC Beer Week got started in this OnTap story). I’ll defer mostly to the great previews highlighted by the Post, the Express, Eater DC, The Hill is Home  (and definitely be sure to pick up a copy of this week’s Washington City Paper Beer Issue too), but below I’ll list my top choice each day that is either free or close to free-the $50-65 3-5 course meals + beer are a pretty good value, but sometimes you want flexibility. (Yes, this intro is basically plagiarized from last year, sue me). I’m also listing unofficial events for bars who didn’t pony up the minimum $250 to be an official sponsor of the week, along with bars who are doing something special all week long (Adams Morgan is an underrated spot with several locations).

  • Sunday August 17th
    • Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Takeover 
      • Churchkey
      • 12 Sierra Nevada collaboration brews, Cigar City (rare in this area, incredibly popular in Florida), Bell’s, Allagash, Oskar Blues, Victory and Firestone Walker
  • Monday August 18th
    • Dogfish Head: Dazed and Infused
      • Scion
      • 30 different beers from Dogfish Head, including 10 drafts, 7 bottles, & 13 infusions
      • $3 off all Dogfish Head beer
      • free glassware until supplies last
      • 5-11p
  • Tuesday August 19th
  • Wednesday August 20th
  • Thursday August 21st
    • Radler-palooza
      • Smoke & Barrel
      • hottest new beer craze of this summer-grapefruit & beer
      • radlers from  3 Stars, Boulevard, Harpoon, Devils Backbone, Stiegl, Sixpoint, Schofferhofer, and more.
      • House-made radlers & radler cocktails
      • 20 drafts and casks from everyone’s favorite Michigan brewery
  • Friday August 22nd
  • Saturday August 23rd
    • Colorado v Delmarva Cornhole Tourney
      • City Tap House
      • Breckenridge Brewery, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, 3 Stars Brewing Company, Evolution Craft Brewing Company, Left Hand Brewing and New Belgium Brewing
      • plus cornhole tourney on patio (beers $5 for those participating in cookout)
  • Sunday August 24th
    • Not much on the schedule, but I’d stop by any of DC’s great beer bars not listed above or below such as The Big Hunt, Bier Baron, Granville Moore’s, Smith Commons, Penn Social, Iron Horse, Jackpot

Events All Week

  • Mellow Mushroom
    • 6 unique beers from Sweetwater Brewing on rooftop all week
  • The Black Squirrel
    • Pennsylvania Beer Week
    • One-off specialty brews from Troegs, Sly Fox, Victory & Stoudts
    • make Trifecta bets all week to guess most popular beers to win prizes
    • HH 5-8p Monday
  • Meridian Pint
    • all 24 drafts are local beers starting Monday
    • 3 local casks daily for $5/beer
  • Ventnor Sports Cafe
    • Sun: 8 Abita drafts on tap + po’boys
    • Tues: Yuengling trivia giving away swag & serving all beers
    • Thurs: Clambake with Narragansett Brewing
    • Fri: Texas Ho-down with Shiner ($5 Shiner beers)
    • Sat: 15-20 Colorado beers & Leopold Bros.
  • Glen’s Garden Market
    • events all week featuring $4 drafts
    • Tues: Mad Fox Tap Takeover
    • Wed: Maryland Showcase- Oliver Brewing Company, Brewer’s Art, and Union Craft Brewing
    • Thurs: Devil’s Backbone Tap Takeover and oysters
    • Fri: local craft beer

image

Townhouse Tavern, the most under-the-radar dive bar in town, has closed, according to its Facebook page. The Dupont bar (17th/R) has been open since April 1997. It was the site of a federal cocaine sting in 2011. Recently, it has hosted regular comedy nights. No word on what is replacing it.

UPDATE: The reaction to BiDC’s breaking news was swift and hilarious on Twitter and especially in the comments section on PoPville. Eater DC also picked up the story. My favorite tweets/comments below:

“Please do not replace with a tapas place… ” – @DCBadger

“RIP Townhouse Tavern. Ye were a savage beast” -@Mr_Robinson95

“Good. I love dive bars, but TT was disgusting  ” – @jmurray20

“Not the Townhouse Tavs! … Just push me off on an ice floe already, D.C.” – @kristoncapps (Staff Writer for CityLab, The Atlantic)

“Holy crap, I can’t believe that Townhouse Tavern – the bar that built the progressive blogosphere – is closing down.” -@Laurenm 

“Now where will I go to get cheap beer and vaguely racist comments?” -@stego_21

“RIP Townhouse Tavs … I will miss your weird smell, sort of” -@sommermathis (Editor for CityLab/The Atlantic, formerly DCist head editor)

“It was always a dump, but got worse after [the FBI coke bust”, in terms of service and crowd (or lack thereof)…. It was interesting in early 2000s, but had not been worth your time (unless you lived there) for years.”-@fritzhahn (2nd tweet)

“Yeah, it became pretty crappy. I’m down with dive bars, but there were far better than Town House.” -@BenHarris_1

On PoPville (multiple references to it being a “coke den”)

  • “..That place was such a dump, but its departure seems to harken the further decline of 17th Street.”
  • “Townhouse was my “Cheers” for many years. It was a dive, but the people who owned it, worked there, and frequented it in the early 2000s were some interesting folk…”
  • “Yeah I’m struggling to come up with one [bar] that even comes close to being as disgusting as Townhouse.”
  • “This place was basically a Coke Den.”
  • “Anyone who has witnessed the tragic mess that used to occur every Friday and Saturday nights at 3 AM after they “closed” can attest to the fact that it was a coke den. Large groups of people outside with coke dealers lingering about. It was not a secret.”
  • “As someone without a coke habit or any interest in revisiting it, but who knew plenty of people with habits in college, it’s obvious if you’ve spent even an hour or two at Townhouse on a Friday or Saturday. Anyone saying otherwise just doesn’t know what they’re talking about or what to look for. I brought my out of state cop friend there and he couldn’t stop chuckling.”
  • ” This place was dirty, smelled awful, and was filled with sketchy people. I had one of my drinks drugged once there.”

My favorite comment:

  • “Yep and they used to keep the party going until the next morning. You weren’t allowed to leave because they didn’t want to alert suspicion that they were open past hours. I remember getting trapped in there once and having some scary guy screaming at me when I finally found a way to force a locked door open at dawn.”

The Gryphon is Back…

Posted: August 4, 2014 in Dupont, Restaurant

and so is social dining experience

Guest post by J Palm, BIDC co-editor
Follow, Tweet me @charmedlivingDC

The Gryphon's Raw Bar in action

The Gryphon’s Raw Bar in action

A few weeks ago, I drank and dined with the editor-in-chief of Barred in DC at the new The Gryphon. We were invited to the newly revamped restaurant & bar to sample and share small plates and taste new cocktails. Yep, our meal and drinks were comped, as a matter of disclosure, but as has always been hallmark to BIDC, the reviews are real and can’t be bought. (Well, maybe they could be, but the price hasn’t been right yet—wink)

You may remember The Gryphon as a fledgling upscale sports bar with dozens of screens trying to make its mark as a destination to watch “the big game”. But as previously reported by BIDC, that didn’t quite work out so the owners, who also represent The Gryphon’s sister Lost Society, drew the curtain, went back to the drawing board, and came up with a toned-down yet elegant (and a bit sexy with its rich color palate and snakeskin patterned wall paper) social dining experience, featuring a raw bar with a robust selection of oysters and clams to suit your taste, along with shrimp and lobster cocktails to share, and modern twists on your favorite ceviches. And let us not forget the real reason we all rely on BIDC—it’s really all about the bar for us, and the bar is good, serving creative, delicious, and well-balanced cocktails that provide a clean and craveable canvas for The Gryphon’s social plates.

Social room/back dining area

Social room/back dining area

First, el jefe ordered the Artemis Virtue—a refreshing cocktail of gin, lime juice, cucumber, mint, and sweet vermouth, sweetened with agave and topped off with a splash of soda. Think summer in a glass. It was a dark and stormy Tuesday evening, so we really needed this. Yours truly enjoyed her own summery concoction—the signature cocktail of the joint—The Gryphon consisted of Grey Goose L’orange, strawberry puree, lime juice and sweetened further with simple syrup. Watch out, for this cocktail is clearly easily drinkable, but it’s dangerous and will sneak up on you—sip leisurely. To accompany our drinks, we started our social dining experience with a shrimp cocktail to share. Apparently, the raw bar chef is always creating new renditions of this classic, so we had to see if he could show us something new (and he did).

The shrimp cocktail special when we dined was a spicy Latin twist on your traditional shrimp cocktail. This dish felt like Cabo. Shrimp, avocado, cocktail sauce, extra horseradish and other spices all mixed together and served on ice was a nice setup for what would be coming ahead from the team at the raw bar and the Texan chef, Joseph Evans (formerly of Smith and Wollensky).

Prosciutto-wrapped monkfish

Prosciutto-wrapped monkfish

As the name of the game at The Gryphon now is surf and turf, we had to have a good smattering of each. After the cocktail, we had a hearty dish of Monkfish wrapped in prosciutto—reminding you of the more traditional bacon-wrapped scallops. Nice flavors and a good sear on the fish made this dish a star. Continuing with “surf”, we definitely over indulged in the highly touted (by the staff) lobster gnocchi. I cannot tell you what a revelation this dish was in making a gnocchi a viable dinner option for me (I usually don’t like the stuff). It’s not just gnocchi, it’s better, and there’s so much lobster that you can’t believe the price.

Star dishes here - fried brussels sprouts & lobster gnocchi

Star dishes here – brussels sprouts & lobster gnocchi

At this point in the meal, I felt good enough to indulge in an additional cocktail (it sneaked up on me), so of course I couldn’t resist a drink named Aphrodite’s Kiss, who could? I fell in love—the blend of Absolut vanilla/regular and lavender syrup was surprising. It was light and sexy and I wanted another immediately (though I didn’t have one), so I ate more delicious food instead.

Tasty cocktails

Tasty cocktails

Moving on to “turf’, we sampled a couple of dueling steak dishes. I was eager to try the hanger steak (maybe it’s the simple country girl in me), but our most kind and attentive server strongly suggested that we try the Cajun filet mignon as well, as it was his favorite. While I was certainly not disappointed by either, I have to say that my favorite was the hanger steak. Its beautiful sear (verging on char) and fresh, bright green herb sauce was simply an all-around joy for my taste buds. The filet was also delicious, but even for me, the Cajun marinade/seasoning was a bit heavy handed. I noted to our server, who came back ‘round to hear my verdict, that with the seasoning the filet lost some of its “filet-ness” and really, to me, could have been any cut of beef since I’m not sure you’d necessarily be able to taste it beyond the seasoning.

Delicious Hanger steak

Delicious Hanger steak

More good news though—the beer, wine, and spirits list is well-rounded enough to scratch any itch and prices are in line with other DC hot spots, with the exception of a higher-than-usual priced DC Brau ($9). After a couple cocktails, a Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager soothed BIDC’s chief and I took a break (despite the sparkling wine calling my name) before dessert drinks—it was a Tuesday night.

It must be noted that the side dishes were fantastic—Brussels sprouts are the new “it” veggie, but I promise, you actually do have to try these perfectly roasted, seasoned, and browned sprouts sprinkled atop with parmesan cheese. Southern girls know macaroni and cheese, and I’ve struggled with the creamy, over-truffled dishes being served all over the metro area. At The Gryphon, the mac is like what mom would make, no—grandma—but more up-to-date yet classically presented, bubbling over in a sizzling cast-iron dish.

Delicious Mac N' Cheese

Delicious Mac N’ Cheese

Bread pudding and cognac was a gluttonous end to our meal. The pudding was rich and creamy (even without the ice cream on top for there were technical issues in the kitchen). Not too sweet, but who needs all that sugar when life (and dinner) can be this good?

IMG_20140715_213546_183

nightcap cognacs

Bread pudding

Bread pudding

Further disclosure: Your guest poster, J Palm, is engaged to BIDC’s chief. We will marry in October. We dine and drink together frequently at home and “on the scene”.

Front bar area at The Gryphon

Front bar area at The Gryphon

Meat locker at The Gryphon

Meat locker at The Gryphon

Folks enjoying new patio from open air front area

Folks enjoying new patio from open air front area

Previously home to an awkward back bar, now plush banquettes

Previously home to an awkward back bar, now plush banquettes

Another view of back bar

Another view of back bar