On October 18, 2012, the webzine/party promoter Brightest Young Things (BYT) staged one of its typically eccentric, hipster events. Inspired by Halloween, the “Zombie H Street Takeover” invited attendees to pay around ten bucks to dress up in zombie costumes and enjoy food and drink deals from 11 different H Street establishments. Many drink deals included sponsor Bulleit bourbon (“A Shot of Bulleit (to the brain)” was a common deal). Sounds like a win-win for everyone, right? H Street bars could benefit from a good crowd on a Thursday evening and attendees took advantage of solid drink and food deals while getting to pay homage to the undead. Unfortunately, for the participating bars, the Zombie Takeover was essentially illegal, resulting in fines for the bars of more than $5,000. Say what? While planning the first Barred in DC Bus Bar Tour last summer, I learned a surprising fact from one bar who declined to host the tour: bar crawls are basically outlawed on H Street (and I discovered quickly, also in Adams Morgan).
This week I’m going to explore why your favorite H Street or Adams Morgan neighborhood bar will never be a part of a bar crawl. Today, I’ll dive into the “settlement” or “voluntary” agreement that most bars in DC end up entering into just to do business, which, in some cases, restrict bars from participating in bar crawls. Tomorrow, I’ll explain why neighbors often restrict these bar crawls. On Thursday, I’ll dive into why one bar, Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar, fought back, challenged ABRA, and lost.
How are bar crawls outlawed?
Applicant agrees not to promote or participate in bar or pub “crawls” or any other event of this nature.
Nearly every single bar on H Street east of 7th Street NE has agreed to this restriction, which is contained in the standard Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6A settlement agreement, and dates to as early as 2004. Many bars in Adams Morgan have agreed to similar language in their agreements with the neighborhood. Why would a bar willingly agree to such a restriction? To simplify things a bit, in DC, if you are a bar or a restaurant and you want to serve booze, you need to obtain a liquor license from the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). Before granting a license, groups of neighbors and/or the local ANC (which serves as an elected neighborhood council) have the chance to protest the granting of the license (usually because it would impact the “peace, order, and quiet of the neighborhood”). If protested, ABRA will hold a hearing, giving “great weight” to any opinion made by the local ANC, and decide whether to grant or deny the license. To avoid the protest & hearing, however, bars and restaurants often agree to a settlement agreement (until recently they were given the misnomer “voluntary agreement”) where the bar agrees, in exchange for the neighbors or ANC dropping or not filing a protest, to a host of restrictions (e.g. hours for the patio, signage, when trash can be taken out) that essentially become part of the terms and conditions of the license and as a result–any violation can lead to consequences (e.g. fines) enforced by ABRA.
So, to avoid delays and the possibility of being without a liquor license, bars in ANC 6A, which includes nearly every H Street bar east of 7th Street NE, many Adams Morgan bars, and a few others in DC have agreed to not promote or participate in bar crawls.
What is the legal definition of a pub crawl?
Now that we’ve discussed settlement agreements and some of the restrictions contained in them, you may have more questions, like how is a bar/pub crawl defined? Or how does ABRA know that an illegal bar crawl has taken place? One could imagine some undercover investigators hanging out on the streets, being on the lookout for wristbands or joining up with any large group of folks going to bars. Luckily, those kinds of wasted resources aren’t necessary because DC’s municipal regulations have a section titled, I kid you not, “PUB CRAWLS.” This section requires that a promoter/organizer obtain ABRA approval (the form can be found here) for any crawl in which more than 200 folks are attending and defines a pub crawl as
an organized group of establishments within walking distance which offer discounted alcoholic drinks during a specified time period.
Tomorrow, we’ll discuss why neighborhoods have issues with bar crawls and explore what transpired in the BYT zombie crawl.