DC’s First Open Container Zones Are Now Legal and One Step Closer to Reality

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

Although none have yet to be authorized, open container zones are now technically legal in DC, after the Reopen Washington DC Alcohol Beverage Regulation Amendment Act of 2021 became effective June 30th.

Applications for the so-called “commercial lifestyle licenses” ($1000 minimum) will become available in early August and will be subject to protests from ANCs and neighbors (and inevitable settlement agreements) before being operational. I would expect to see at least one of these up and running by early 2023.

The Wharf has previously confirmed to me that they’re interested in applying for such a license; developments like City Center and Hecht’s Ivy City and the yet-to-be-constructed The Parks at Walter Reed and The Stacks at Buzzard Point developments are also potentially ripe for such licenses. Barred in DC recommended DC implement something like this back in June 2020, as these entertainment/sip and stroll districts are increasingly common in the US (in fact Shirlington, Pentagon Row, and a part of Crystal city in Arlington already allow this).

ABRA held an information session earlier this week (slide deck) that summarized the key provisions of the law, including the new commercial lifestyle license.

Specifically, the new commercial lifestyle license:

  • Allows patrons to buy alcohol from bars/restaurants to-go and drink them within pre-defined boundaries
  • Must be in a mixed-used/commercial developments (combination of retail/residential/dining/entertainment/office and/or hotel) on private property (including on plazas, private streets, private sidewalks, etc.)
  • Must be in a physically integrated outdoor setting that is pedestrian friendly
  • Only allowed if there’s a commercial owner’s assocation
  • Does not legalize open container drinking on public streets or parks
  • Cannot be applied for by a BID or Main Street
  • Requires each bar/restaurant who wants to sell drinks to-go for drinking within the zone to provide the alcohol in marked reusable containers (designed to be sanitized/reused at least 125 times) that include a deposit/refund system.

Other notable aspects of the law:

  • Extends the authorization for streateries until the end of 2023, though imposes for first time an $100 annual registration fee
    • First bill sent in August, due by end of September
    • Streateries will be required to adhere to DDOT’s Streatery Guidelines once made permanent. Current guidelines here.
  • Doubles the amount of tavern licenses allowed in Georgetown from 6 to 12 (but it has to be a new business formed in 2022 or after; existing restaurants can’t convert)
  • Creates a 3rd-Party Alcohol Delivery license which provides actual regulation for those companies that deliver booze from bars/restaurants and breweries/distilleries
    • Applications available in early August. Minimum fee $200.
  • Allows bars/restaurants/hotels to allow doggie bags/partially opened bottles of hard liquor, not just wine
  • Allows breweries/distilleries to be open til 1a (breweries that are already open later have a tavern/restaurant license)
  • Requires an entertainment endorsement for trivia nights when a microphone is used
  • Allows “brewpubs” (Atlas, Bluejacket, Public Option, Right Proper Shaw, and Red Bear) to self-distribute each up to 15,500 gallons of beer (approximately equivalent for example to 165,000 12 oz cans) to other licensees for resale each year
    • Pushed by DC Brewers Guild, negotiated with DC Wholesalers group
  • Provides some more leeway to restaurants/bar who inadvertanly serve minors who use high-quality fake-IDs
    • High quality fake IDs are NOT IDs that are visibly damaged, lack valid ID physical materials/features, have a different picture than person showing card, expired, or when bartender/bouncer knows person isnt 21
  • Bars/restaurants are still technically required not to serve someone who doesn’t have their ID when asked (not required to ask) by the bartender/bouncer/server (bars can still of course deny service if you don’t have it) but bars/restaurants won’t get in trouble anymore if the person was in fact 21
  • Allows an unnamed strip club (almost certainly Ziegfield’s/Secrets) whose lease ended in 2020-2022 in Buzzard Point to move to downtown or another appropriately zoned area (previous restrictions made it impossible to do so)
  • Incentivizes construction of a full service grocery story in pre Jan 2022 Wards 7-8, certain Ward 5 areas, or Buzzard Point by allowing them to have a liquor license (like Hill East Safeway, Costco, or Wegman’s) and after 12 months of having a store, get a liquor license in an existing or new Ward 1-6 store

One response to “DC’s First Open Container Zones Are Now Legal and One Step Closer to Reality”

  1. […] change was part of a larger ABC law that became effective on June 30th. This change was something GM wrote about last February. Specifically he asked “will the […]

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