UPDATE-Metrobar Receives Liquor License, Can Sell Booze Starting Saturday June 18th

Update Saturday morning from metrobar: So, we just received our ABRA license and will be open and serving beer and spirits today. We are still experiencing a staff shortage, and face issues today obtaining some of our regular menu products due to wholesalers being closed for the weekend. Our team is working this morning to see what that all looks like, but we ask for everyone’s patience as we navigate through that and back to normal operations next week.

Picture by author from July 2021 of metrobar
Updated statement from Friday afternoon. Bar will be open booze free

[post edited at 7am 6/17 to say metrobar says it has a c/o]

metrobar, the outdoor bar (featuring a Metro car that you can’t yet sit inside in) in an awaiting-development lot in the Bryant Street development in Edgewood next to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro, was ordered (5-1 vote) on Wednesday by the DC Alcohol Beverage Control Board to cease and desist alcohol sales on site, including storing alcohol on site and allowing caterers (with liquor licenses) from hosting events there. Due to this order, the bar cancelled its scheduled event Thursday night and closed, but as of now, still plans to have its weekend Juneteenth celebrations (sponsored-ironically(?)- in part by Mayor Bowser’s DC government). It’s unclear whether these celebrations will include booze or whether they’ll be able to resolve the issue this quickly.

metrobar has never been granted an actual liquor license. According to the ABC Board, this is because the bar has “failed to file various documents with ABRA, including a certificate of occupancy.” A c/o is intended to ensure that a building, structure, or land conforms to DC zoning regulations, DC construction codes, and green building rules. [EDIT-per bar they have an approved certificate of occupancy but that is not reflected on the DCRA website. To date, metrobar does not have a DCRA-approved certificate of occupancy.] ABRA investigators visited the bar two Fridays in a row (May 27th and June 3rd) and observed the bar open, despite the lack of c/o, and that “leftover alcohol being used by the caterer and stored” at metrobar was illegal. The ABC Board found “that the sale, service, and consumption of alcohol and a large gathering of people on a property without a certificate of occupancy potentially threatens the health, safety, and welfare of the public because the event site has not been approved for human occupation or use in accordance with various safety laws.”

So, instead of having a liquor license, does that mean metrobar has been operating as a speakeasy since it opened late spring 2021? No. ABRA has instead (possibly at its own suggestion) issued it a series of temporary 4 day licenses (usually Thu-Sun each week). Generally, metrobar (mostly in the name of co-owner Jesse Rauch) has called it “hosting neighborhood events to introduce itself to the community” or the name of the event itself. In once instance, the ABC Board approved 5 weekends of these temporary licenses at one time. These licenses are typically referred to “one day licenses’ but in fact can be approved for up to 4 days and are designed for “banquets, picnics, bazaars, fairs or similar public gatherings.” Outdoor events using temporary licenses DO NOT require a certificate of occupancy. Note that temporary liquor licenses cost $300/day so metrobar has been paying a whopping $1200 a week (possibly costing them up to $45,000(!) in liquor license fees) for these temporary liquor licenses when a fully approved liquor license for a spot like metrobar would normally cost no more than roughly $4,000/year.

The ABC Board/ABRA issued these temporary licenses for over 10 months, first approving them for use in May 2021 (possibly earlier) and then last approving a batch of temporary licenses through April 3, 2022 on February 2nd, 2022 (see pages 21-23). However, a month later, when metrobar came back to seek approval for several one-off events (including a WAMU/WABA mayoral/Council chair forum) in March, the ABC Board/ABRA denied those requests (unclear why). Based on what happened in late May/early June, it seems metrobar tried to keep their bar open by possibly hiring caterers with liquor licenses, which would be doable but each caterer would have to bring their own booze and serve food along with it.

My understanding is that whatever issues DCRA had to prevent it from issuing a certificate of occupancy have been resolved: metrobar’s official certificate of occupancy application was submitted on June 8th (for a bar/beer garden fitting up to 399 people), and it’s pending review. [bar says they have one]. So, there’s a chance this will be resolved soon. Stay tuned.

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