Romeo & Juliet (301 Massachusetts Ave. NE), the new Italian tapas restaurant set to open on Capitol Hill near Union Station, recently received its liquor license granting full liquor-serving hours (till 2a on weekdays, 3a on weekends); ABRA, keeping with previous decisions, ordered the large patio to close at 11p on weekdays and midnight on weekends. This establishment was the subject of a post last month (one of the most popular in Barred in DC history-over 1300 views and 10 comments) that detailed the entertaining hearing regarding this application. Neighbors (both distant and immediate) were concerned that it would operate at a nightclub, partly in response to the fact that owner Michael Romeo Rehman was involved with other DC nightclubs including Midtown, Dirty Martini, Tattoo Bar, Lotus and Fur.
ABRA, in its detailed decision, explained why it was granting Romeo & Juliet the full restaurant liquor license. It found the owner “intends to operate as a legitimate restaurant” and that the ANC’s “fears that the establishment will morph into a nightclub, or become a source of disorder and antisocial behavior” were not supported for a number of reasons:
- No entertainment endorsement: “This means that the establishment cannot engage in activities often associated with nightclubs, such as offering live entertainment, dancing, and collecting a cover charge.”
- Restaurant license includes minimum food sales requirements & must serve food until at least 2 hrs before closing.
- Demonstrated investment in serving food by enlarging the kitchen.
- Manager has significant experience opening and operating restaurants.
- Showed that it has built the restaurant in a “manner conducive to the service of food.”
The ABRA Board further concluded that the restaurant’s operations won’t cause trash/litter issues, specifically noting that “behavior associated with 201 Lounge, a separate establishment with no connection … cannot be fairly imputed to Romeo & Juliet’s future operations.” It also flatly dismissed the claim brought by some neighbors at the hearing that the restaurant will somehow adversely affect the children at the nearby Senate Daycare Center or the Senate Page School and Dormitory, noting that those institutions didn’t even object themselves.
Rejecting the main thrust of the neighbors’ argument, ABRA disagreed that Rehman’s record managing and owning other bars merited denial of application. Even noting that he incorrectly declared that none of his establishments had been penalized by ABRA for liquor license violations on the license application, ABRA found that the violations were not “sufficient to merit the denial of a new license” and that, despite the “large number of investigations” related to some of the bars, the Board “rejects the use of any incident … that does not lead to a violation or a formal finding.” Notably, and perhaps controversially, the Board found that Rehman’s experience with his other spots was not “useful or persuasive” because they are nightclubs while Romeo & Juliet is a restaurant.
Finally, the Board imposed the reasonable restriction that the 142-seat unenclosed patio close at 11p on weekdays and midnight on weekends (one hour earlier than what the restaurant agreed was OK in the hearing), citing its precedent in restricting the hours of Duffy’s Irish Pub last year. ABRA noted that it was “not convinced that the tree enclosure proposed by Romeo & Juliet will eliminate noise leakage from the” patio, and took note of the testimony of a neighbor who stated that noise from White Tiger, the prior restaurant, could be heard on her property: “it is reasonable to conclude that noise from the sidewalk cafe may disturb nearby restaurants; especially, given the large size of the unenclosed seating area.” The Board found that “a proper balance between the interests of Romeo & Juliet and the reasonable expectation of its neighbors require the sidewalk cafe to close” earlier. Interestingly, although Romeo & Juliet’s manager stated at the hearing that the restaurant would be okay with interior hours until 1a on weekdays and 2a on weekends, ABRA did not end up restricting the license in that manner. Stay tuned to see if the neighbors appeal.