Yesterday, I wrote about how a BYT Zombie Takeover event in October 2012 led to thousands of dollars in fines for H Street establishments. I discussed how bars in DC often enter into voluntary/settlement agreements with neighbors that contain restrictions on how they do business. Nearly every single bar on H Street has a voluntary agreement that prevents them from participating in bar/pub crawls. I also looked into what constitutes such a crawl, which is actually defined in DC’s regulations. Today, I’ll look into why neighbors don’t like bar crawls and reveal how the ABRA investigators discovered the zombies and their illicit bar crawling.
Why ban bar crawls?
So, what’s the deal with bar crawls? Luckily for me, the ANC 6A’s website provides official insights into its negative stance towards crawls. Earlier last year, a member of ANC 6A’s alcohol licensing committee explained that “in the 90s, there were some ‘really bad’ bar crawls [on H Street], which led the ANC to decide to oppose these types events across the board.” (Aside: there were bars on H Street in the 90s???). Late in 2012, the same committee rejected a request from Atlas Flats, a new apartment building in the neighborhood, that several bars be granted a one-day exception to participate in a promotional bar crawl; the committee didn’t want to open the floodgates for more exceptions. Earlier, in May 2008, this ANC unanimously rejected a request to amend the standard agreement to allow pub crawls even for charity events, finding little “enthusiasm from the committee or the audience” and that
[b]usiness owners … said they view pub/bar crawls as a way to promote cheap liquor or beer and excessive drinking. One stated he doesn’t ever want to be attached to anything called a pub crawl and doesn’t want to [be] shanghaied into reducing prices.
After I posted Part 1 of this story, Jay Williams, an ANC 6A commissioner responded, explaining in a series of Tweets that “ANC 6A is exploring way to relax this restriction. [A]lso, we’ve tried our best to work with organizers to not run afoul of [definition] of pub crawl … but too many organizers just set up the event and let bars deal with fallout.”
Local residents have also, unsurprisingly, expressed their dismay with bar crawls. In one 2001 Washington Times article about the problematic Adams Morgan Bar Crawl (which stopped being held soon after the article was published), one local neighbor colorfully explained, referring to bar crawl attendees:
As far as I’m concerned, these guys are a plague on the land. They promote filth, dirty trash, loud noise and disturbance to people who don’t happen to be drunk.
In fact, a recent decision shows that this disfavor towards bar crawls has been taken into account by ABRA itself. A new bar in Adams Morgan, Libertine, recently refused to negotiate a settlement agreement with its neighbors when requesting later hours for its sidewalk patio, taking its chances with ABRA as the neighbors protested the request. In September 2013, ABRA denied this protest, granting Libertine’s request. However, in a potentially far-reaching decision, ABRA ruled, as an express condition of the bar’s liquor license, that it could not participate in bar crawls, one of the restrictions sought by the neighbors in the settlement agreement. This was included explicitly to address the neighbors’ “specific concerns regarding noise that may be considered generic to establishments in Adams Morgan and that may reasonably be anticipated to disturb the neighborhood in the same manner [which] involve pub crawls and amplified music which historically have disturbed the peace, order, and quiet in the neighborhood.”
What happened in the BYT H Street Zombie Takeover?
So how did a fun little zombie event by BYT turn into so many headaches for H Street bars? According to investigative reports, ABRA received an anonymous tip a week before the Zombie Takeover that BYT was promoting a bar crawl without pre-approval. After confirming that BYT had not obtained this approval, ABRA investigators went “undercover” (which sounds like the lamest undercover operation in the history of law enforcement); a pair of investigators bought tickets from BYT, and, using the coupon book and wristband given to them after that purchase, stopped by many participating bars (Dangerously Delicious, Rock and Roll Hotel, Atlas Arcade, SOVA, Church and State, Little Miss Whiskey’s, The Queen Vic, Red Palace, Smith Commons, and Sticky Rice all participated) to get (but not consume) the shot or drink they were entitled to. Another pair of investigators went to these same bars later in the night to cite these bars for violating its settlement agreement. Most of the bars cited settled with ABRA staff for fairly modest $250, $500, or $750 fines, though (likely because of its repeated previous violations) the now-defunct RedPalace (recently replaced by Vendetta) was fined a whopping $2,000. Interestingly, while The Queen Vic agreed to a settlement agreement with ANC 6A when it opened back in 2010, the agreement was never submitted to and approved by ABRA until last summer, and the bar escaped any sanctions. At the time of the publication of this story, BYT had not responded to my e-mail request for comment.
One bar, the hipster dance spot Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar, however, did not agree to settle with ABRA staff and pay the $500 fine ABRA requested. Tomorrow, I’ll explore why it fought back and what happened when it did.