As first reported by Barred in DC on Twitter, the hipster sushi/dance party H Street spot Sticky Rice has been severely punished by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board for ejecting two Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) investigators last New Year’s Eve. The bar cannot serve booze for a 15 day period next month and must pay a $4,000 fine; another 10 days of the liquor license suspension will be served if any violations occur in the next year. Barring any appeals, the bar will be closed from November 13-27, 2013, a staggering blow to the operators and employees of Sticky Rice.
According to the Board’s order, two ABRA investigators entered Sticky Rice for a “routine compliance check” while “monitoring establishments in the H Street [corridor] as part of a [NYE] initiative conducted by ABRA.” Jason Martin, one of the owners of Sticky Rice (as well as the nearby Dangerously Delicious and Rock & Roll Hotel), accused one of the investigators of having fake identification and refused to let them examine the licenses they had requested to view. He then “began cursing and yelling, ordering the investigators to leave the establishment, and calling on security to eject the investigators,” and apparently made some physical contact with the investigators. A few bouncers escorted the investigators out; an ABRA supervisor soon showed up and confirmed to Martin that both of these investigators were indeed employed by ABRA. This did not placate Martin as he continued screaming at the investigators. The investigators stated that his behavior was “strange,” “incoherent, and “bizarre” and thought his eyes looked “funny.”
The Board did not find credible Martin’s explanation that one of the investigators was carrying his supervisor’s identification instead of his own. Instead, the Board was “quite convinced that Mr. Martin’s actions and behavior risked causing a dangerous confrontation between security and ABRA’s investigators” and that he “unjustifiably interfered with an ABRA investigation” in violation of D.C. law.
The decision that Sticky Rice violated the law was unanimous; however, the chair of the Board, Ruthanne Miller, dissented from the imposed penalty. Miller thought it was “unusually severe … not commensurate with the ‘crime’ [and did] not serve the public interest.” She explained that Martin’s actions were “not based on any real intent” and “not rational,” and no one was physically harmed in the incident. According to Miller, the “problem …was [Martin's] aberrant behavior” yet there “had been no follow-up to determine if this behavior was a one-night occurrence or whether such behavior is continuing.” Instead of a suspension and fine, she would have simply “monitor[ed] the establishment.”
Sticky Rice has until the end of the month to file a motion that the Board reconsider its decision; it can also appeal to the D.C Court of Appeals. The H Street/Trinidad blog Frozen Tropics had not received any comment from the bar as of the time of this story’s posting.
UPDATE 10/21: Added follow-up post containing Martin’s statement to the Board, along with other reaction.