Category Archives: DC Bar News

Public Drinking / Open Containers in DC – A Possible Option to Help Bars and Restaurants?

Public Drinking image puroticorico / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

I’ve lost track how many people have suggested that loosening the DC ban on public drinking/open containers would help restaurants/bars make additional revenue and provide another fun option as well as promote social distancing during this pandemic. Even the libertarian magazine Reason posted a story “Let People Drink Outside” last month that got some buzz.  Of course, this hope is nothing new, even before the pandemic, when people wished that DC could adopt some of the things they observed on trips to much of western Europe where this no big deal or to the relatively few cities elsewhere in the U.S. this is legal.

I think it’s important to see different ways open container/public drinking has been implemented in North America, and consider whether this could be implemented here in DC.  Although in most of U.S., people actually think of open container in terms of while driving, this is focused on drinking in public (while walking on sidewalks, parks, etc.).

Full-On Open Container Allowed in Public

In most of the U.S. you are not allowed to drink in public except in a bar/restaurant. However, there are some states where open containers are legal almost everywhere except perhaps some downtowns in some bigger cities (Texas, Indiana being noteworthy), whether you bought it from a liquor store (BYOB) or from a bar/restaurant. Here is a sampling of places where a full-on open container policy is totally legal:

  • New Orleans
    • French Quarter: plastic cups or bottles only
    • anything goes in rest of city
  • Las Vegas
    • No glass containers on Strip
    • No drinking within 1000 feet of church/synagogue/school/hospital/homeless center/liquor store
  •  Indiana
    • Indianapolis allows bars/restaurants to sell to-go as long as it in original container
  • Butte, Montana
    • Except 2a-8a
  • East Aurora, New York (near Buffalo)
  • Hood River, Oregon (near Portland)
    • drink can’t be open when you leave bar or goto another bar with it
  • Erie, Pennsylvania
  • Beale Street, Memphis
    • No glass/metal containers
  • Sonoma, California
    • allowed 11:30a-sunset
    • Most people just in Sonoma Plaza but can walk anywhere
  •  Texas
    • Arlington, TX
    • Fort Worth, TX (possibly only to-go from bar/restaurant)
    • Fredericksburg (beer or wine only)

Entertainment Districts – To-Go Open Containers

However, in the past decade or so, something commonly called an “entertainment district” has begun to spread around the country. Instead of allowing BYOB everywhere, these typically downtown districts allow people to buy drinks to-go in plastic cups from bars/restaurants and walk around the district with it. These are popular in the following states:

  • Alabama (est. 2012)
    • Birmingham
    • Montgomery
    • Mobile
    • Huntsville
      • Good example of potential rules
  • Georgia
    • Savannah (most famous one)
      • Contrary to popular belief, Savannah only allows to-go (not BYOB) booze in the central historic district, not all over the city
    • bunch of suburbs near Atlanta
  • Mississippi (est. 2016)
    • Called a “Leisure and refreshment district”
  • Ohio (est. 2015)
    • Called an “outdoor refreshment area”
    • Toledo 
    • Tons of small towns I’ve never heard of
    • Cincinnati is considering it
  • Tampa, Florida
    • 2-mile riverwalk
  • Kansas City, Missouri
    • Power and Light District in Kansas City, Missouri \allows this

Not all districts are the same but generally share generally some qualities:

  • Drinks must be purchased from bar/restaurant (or pop-up satellite bar) in the district, NO BYOB
  • Almost always must be poured in 16 oz. plastic cups
  • Cups usually must have either the logo of the bar/restaurant on it or the logo of the district
  • Often 1-2 drink limits at a time
  • Size of area often 4-5 blocks long or 5-10 blocks square
  • Frequently time-limited (11a-midnight is pretty common)
  • Some don’t allow you to take your drink to another bar
  • Signage and sidewalk markings limiting zone
  • Rarely allowed in parking lots/garages (no tailgating)
  • Shared effort for cleaning area

There are also “common consumption areas” or “common areas” in Colorado (Denver, Ft Collins, smaller towns), Nebraska (Lincoln, Omaha), and Kansas. These are really entertainment district-“lite” because the streets are required to be closed to traffic when the non-BYOB open container policy is in effect. Which means that in practice these are usually are in effect at the most on Fri/Sat nights but more often just once a month or so.

I was surprised to find out that Canada is similar to US with almost no open container areas. The only one I could find is in Montreal where alcohol can be drunk in public, but only in a city park with a meal (whatever that means).

What About DC??

So could relaxing the open container ban work in DC, particularly during the pandemic or even permanently? Maybe.

Allowing a full open container (a la New Orleans) and allowing BYOB (or open container of takeaway drinks only) all throughout the city might promote the most social distancing as people could walk through their residential neighborhoods instead of focusing on a certain more confined area. But I see very little chance that scores of DC homeowners, particularly those who live in the typically very expensive rowhouses near nightlife districts, would not universally and loudly oppose due to concerns about public intoxication, littering/trash issues, and other public nuisance-type issues. It’s also telling that aside from New Orleans and Las Vegas (which have the BYOB open culture for decades or longer), no major U.S. cities allow this. As a result, I don’t see it as a realistic option in DC.

Same goes for allowing people to drink (either BYOB or restaurant takeaway only) in parks. Again, it can be easier to socially distance in park than even a restaurant patio but I see several issues that I feel are insurmountable. For one, many parks are on in fact controlled by the National Park Service, not DC, which generally bans alcohol in its parks. In addition, many parks can be crowded and efforts to effectively reduce the amount of space used for recreation/exercise by allowing people to drink there would be controversial and seen as tone-deaf. I also cannot see DC willing to deal with the inevitable litter issues  (however, private/public options like Yards Park seems like could be a good candidate for business district mentioned below).

On the other hand, a “business district” that allows patrons to take away their drinks bought at a bar or restaurant and walk around or to another spot may be doable. The business districts would by nature contain fewer or no residents living in houses and if properly done, any negative effects would be contained to the neighborhood (though it should be noted that the southern jurisdictions mentioned below in general don’t contain that much residents next to or in their business district). The districts can be organized in tandem or loosely with the cognizant BID or Main Street so that they would only be created in areas where the bars/restaurants/other businesses want them. There are now plenty of examples elsewhere that can be studied to provide the most controlling environment to avoid spillover or other negative externalities, and possibly reduce the Mayor’s concerns that she does not want to create a party/festival atmosphere that would reduce social distancing.

Recommendation

My recommendation is that Mayor Bowser/ABRA/Council of DC should strongly consider coming up with a new type of liquor license to create the entertainment district concept in DC. This liquor license could either be shared by neighboring businesses or by a BID/Main Street/large developer. The license would allow patrons of those businesses or those in the BID/Main Street/development that choose to participate to take their alcohol to go in labeled 16 oz cups outside to walk around in the area or any communal seating cleaned/run by the businesses/BID/Main Street/large developer collectively. Just like any liquor license, these applications can be challenged by neighbors or the local ANC, at least initially, so these would be created in areas where the neighbors actually want them.

There are several areas of town where I think this could work initially and may not encounter insurmountable opposition (though there will be undoubtedly some opposition anywhere). [Edited to add and revise areas Note, I’m not saying that DC should immediately legalize these areas (the legislation should allow any area in DC to apply for one) but these neighborhoods where because of the layout of the area, and proximity to residents/houses, I think there could at the very least a limited open container business district that could be OK with the local ANC and neighbors and would be worth having.]

  • The Wharf (tailor-made, you can close the shared streets to auto traffic)
  • Navy Yard (perhaps just Yards Park and the walk to where Salt Line/All Purpose are)
  • CityCenter itself
  • Georgetown Waterfront
  • Downtown/Golden Triangle/Penn Quarter (roughly 7th Street-20th Streets Northwest south of Dupont Circle/Mass Ave and north of Pennsylvania Ave NW, excluding any residential blocks)
  • Ivy City (around the Hecht’s development)
  • Union Market

Once certain areas adopt this and if it goes well with few issues, the more popular nightlife neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, U Street, or H Street could follow suit.

Then again, by all reports, the police are taking a blind eye towards respectful, non-drunk public drinking and many are partaking (last year 15% of followers did it frequently and nearly 2/3 did it once), so perhaps no legal changes are necessary.

Right Proper Brewing Releasing SAY THEIR NAMES on Friday to Support Black Lives Matter

 

DC’s own Right Proper Brewing Co., which collaborated with Barred in DC to brew the still-available, popular Beered in DC, is doing something way more awesome.

On Friday, June 5th, the brewery will be releasing SAY THEIR NAMES, a limited release kellerbier. 100% of profits will be going to BLACK LIVES MATTER DC. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is based on the #SAYTHEIRNAMES hashtag to make sure people say and remember the names of black people who are murder victims of police brutality and other racial violence. Several of these names are on the label of the 750mL bottle.

The 5.0% ABV kellerbier (which is a German lager) will be available for sale from the Shaw brewpub and the Brookland production facility (not available at bars or in retailers).

SAY THEIR NAMES will be available in draft form pints to go/on patio ($6), 750mL flip-top bottles ($12), and 64 oz. growler fills ($17 + $15 for flip-top growler glass if you want one). Due to limited supplies, only 144 750mL bottles were produced, and they’re asking you to limit your purchase to 1 bottle per order.

Expect the bottles to be sold out in first day or two and the beer to gone pretty soon after. Note that originally RP was going to donate some of the profits to ACLU of DC but ACLU asked that all the donations goto BLM. Employees working will be donating 100% of their tips to BLM as well.

How To Buy

  • Shaw
    • Open Noon-9p F-Sat (Noon-7p Sun-Thurs)
    • order on Toast Tab for pickup or limited delivery
    • Walk-in will be available as supplies last
    • Can drink pints on-site on patio, space permitting
  • Brookland 
    • Open Noon-6p F-Sun
    • Online orders already sold out
    • Walk-in will be available as supplies last
    • Can drink pints on-site on patio, space permitting

DC law still prohibits breweries from shipping their beer directly to consumers in other states even where that is allowed. 

 

Which Restaurants and Bars are Eligible to Open on Friday? Plus ABRA Regulations and Info On Street Closures

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

As reported here earlier today, Mayor Bowser lifted the stay-at-home order and is allowing restaurants and other food establishments to reopen on Friday, May 29th. Many are not planning on opening immediately but many are eligible. My reading of the order and a clarification that Gabe Hiatt of Eater received allows the following outdoor spaces to open immediately for table service/seated “outdoor dining” on Friday, May 29th:

  1. non-booze serving restaurant/fast food outdoor space (DDOT approved sidewalk cafes and any other outdoor space on private property)
  2. booze serving restaurants/bars/taverns/nightclubs/multipurpose facilities “that serve food” (or just have a license to serve food, and their outdoor spaces that have DDOT/ABRA approved sidewalk cafe OR ABRA summer garden endorsements.

What is a summer garden?? It is outdoor space that is not a sidewalk cafe or otherwise in public space. This refers to most beer gardens, back patios, side patios, rooftops, roof deck, gardens, and courtyard.

Also, because all if not all bars/restaurants in DC can technically serve food (my understanding is that DCRA requires any bar to get a restaurant basic business license) I don’t think this is a huge issue.

What does this mean? Barred in DC “exclusively” obtained (“under deadline”) a list of all ABRA-licensed establishments with at least one of these endorsements. Out of the 1450+ licensed establishments in DC, around 850 have one of these endorsements, meaning the other 600 would not be able to open until Phase 3. An incomplete list of beer gardens and other outdoor bars are below, A reader created a map here using this data.

Twitter account Eat DC has the best ongoing list of spots opening.

ABRA Regulations

[ADDED]. I located a copy of the draft regulations ABRA  has now adopted and are final.

On-Premises Outdoor Dining

  • Prohibit dancing, darts, video games, or other outdoor games
  • no BYOB (not allowed anyways)
  • Menu must contain a minimum of 3 “prepared food items”
    • Based on previous guidance prepared food items is not a bag of chips unless housemade or spices added)
  • Require purchase of 1+ prepared food items per table
  • Prepared item can be prepared on site or at another entity that has a DOH food license (i.e. food truck or other restaurant)
    • Bar/restaurant staff have to deliver food, not the food truck
  • Can only be open outside 8a-midnight (or earlier if settlement agreement/Board has said so)
  • No live music or entertainment (only background/recorded music)
  • No alcohol advertising (except menus) on outdoor space
  • Wait staff wear masks
  • Masks required except when “seated and eating or drinking”
  • Requires reservations system by phone or on-line. Suggests keeping customer logs.
    • This doesn’t appear to actually require reservations, just to have a reservation system.
  • Can’t share tables/chairs with another business

Outdoor Dining Expansion

ABRA wants to “allow as many qualifying ABC-licensed establishments to return to operation as possible”. It will allow serving in “new or expanded temporary ground floor or street level outdoor public and private space not listed on its existing license” (No new rooftops or elevated) if:

    • Registers with ABRA and gets written authorization
    • Registers with DDOT for public space OR Gets written approval from property owner for any outdoor private sapace
    • Space must be delineated/marked

Awnings or tents that no more than 1 side are considered outdoor space. And retractable glass walls make something indoor dining. Unclear if this applies to existing enclosed sidewalk patios.

Street Closures

Street closures are also being considered by the Mayor’s special events task force. Right now it appears the following streets will be closed to traffic to (more to come hopefully) starting on the following dates (likely to extend past that weekend if all goes well):

  • 18th Street in Adams Morgan (weekend of June 4-7)
  • 800 Block of Upshur Street in Petworth (weekend of June 11-14)
  • Eastern Market-200 and 300 blocks of 7th St SE between Penn & NC Ave (weekend of June 18-21).

The expanded outdoor space would be used for extended outdoor seating for restaurants and there would likely be a 20 foot interior space/lane unused in the event of an emergency vehicle needing to pass through. It’s like the closures would be evenings Thurs-Sun, but in some areas the closures would occur during the day on weekends.

There is apparently opposition to closing Barracks Row from the local Barracks Row main street. Stay tuned about other details on closures in other areas of town.

Beer Gardens

  • Scheduled to Open Friday
    • Dacha Beer Garden Shaw
    • The Brig
    • Dacha Navy Yard
    • The Bullpen
    • Biergarten Haus
  • Not Opening this Friday
    • The Midlands
  • No announcement
    • Bardo
    • Garden District
    • Wundergarten

Mayor Bowser Lifts Stay-at-Home-Order and Allows Establishments to Reopen Outdoors – An Analysis

[New Post here: Which Restaurants and Bars Are Allowed to Open on Friday?]

This morning, Mayor Bowser announced that the stay-at-home order, which was in effect starting April 1st, would end at midnight May 28th. Beginning May 29th, restaurants and other establishments can reopen for outdoor seating only, which marks the first time they’ve been open since March 16th.

The order (posted first by Mark Segraves, NBC4), which echoes some of what I discussed in my open letter as well as my proposal from last week, with respect to restaurants/bars:

Allows ALL of the following to open for outdoor dining:

    • Restaurants
    • Other licensed food establishments
    • Taverns, nightclubs and mixed-use facilities that serve food (other part of order says “licensed to serve food”) and already have a summer garden (rooftop/courtyard) or sidewalk cafe ABRA endorsement

Bars/nightclubs/taverns that are not licensed to serve food (I think most if not all are licensed) and don’t have a summer garden or sidewalk license (a lot don’t) cannot open.

Mayor Bowser announced that there will be a process to open outdoor seating to let other restaurants be allowed to expand into. Hopefully, bars/nightclubs/taverns will be allowed to participate in this expansion and receive an expedited ABRA endorsement.

Outdoor dining must occur in DDOT and ABRA approved areas:

  • Outdoor dining customers must be seated while placing orders and be served at tables only
  • 6 people at each table
  • Tables serving parties at least 6 feet apart.

Mayor Bowser and the DOH director Nebsitt weren’t clear if this allows restaurants to serve on rooftops or in back patios or other areas that are not in DDOT-governed public space.

Reservations “encouraged” via online or telephone. They are also encouraged (not required) to keep customer logs to facilitate contact tracing by Department of Health.

GUIDANCE

Department of Health also released guidance. Via the Mayor’s Order these are required. Select requirements:

Guests:

  • Standing or sitting at an outdoor bar is prohibited
  • Reservations are encouraged and dining records will be saved for at least 30 days.
  • Customers should provide names and contact information and record time of arrival.
    • This appears not to be mandatory but do it.
  • Masks required while not eating or drinking. When ordering food and prior to being served

Employees:

  • Wear Masks when working
  • Where gloves when handling ready-to-eat foods
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces used at least every 4-6 hours, and tables/receipt trays between uses
  • Sick or symptoms should immediately stop working and leave.

Employers:

  • Employees must be assessed with questionnaire before shift
  • Must tell 3rd party delivery/suppliers about requirements
  • Post signage that nobody with a fever or symptoms are allowed and everyone has to wear a mask
  • Try to have separate entrance/exit
  • Don’t allow congregation
  • Paper menus strongly encouraged and discarded. Reusable menus have to be cleaned and disinfected between each use
  • Buffets and salad bars are prohibited
  • No self service drink stations, condiments stations, and utensil/napkin stations
  • Single use items strongly encouraged.
  • Flush water systems
  • Tables, chairs, check presenters must be disinfected after each seating

Other restrictions non-restaurants

  • Everyone must continue to maintain a distance of at least six feet from person not in their household, except if such distance is impossible to maintain (e.g obtaining medical services, haircut)
  • Large gatherings of more than 10 people continue to be prohibited
  • Nonessential retail business open for advance order OUTDOOR pickup only or delivery
  • Barbershops and hair salons allowed appointment only
    • “encouraged to keep customer information related to these appointments including which barber or stylist saw that customer”
    • No waiting
    • 1 customer per barber/stylist
    • No waxing, electrolysis, threading, and nail care
    • 6 feet from each other
  • Healthcare providers can offer services including outpatient or other surgery
  • Workers open must tell employees if come to work if sick
  • Plan required that includes all employees about testing locations in DC and CDC guidance
  • Parks, dog parks, tennis courts, tracks, and fields (not playground or pools) will be open.

Support a Charity – If You Can

[The following is an unrolled version of a Twitter thread]

A lot of people are hurting out there in the DC area, the U.S. and around the world. Unemployment benefits are not going to last forever and many people (e.g., undocumented individuals) are ineligible for unemployment or the federal stimulus funds. But the majority of you, like myself, have not been financially affected, and at least some of us likely received stimulus money in our bank accounts that we are just going to add to savings. Also, although it has been barely reported on, the CARES Act creates a $300 above-the-line charitable deduction in 2020 (and likely going forward though experts disagree)) federal income taxes, which means you can deduct up to $300 of donations to charities from your taxable income EVEN if you don’t itemize (which is 85%+ of filers).

So, if you are able to and can spare, I hope you can donate to one of these non-profit/charities listed below. Many of these I’ve supported for years but most were suggested by you and are new to me. We are personally supporting the most of them but all seem worthy. I encourage you to support any charity, even those not listed.

As an added show of my appreciation, I’ll send a Barred in DC koozie to anyone who has donated $25 to any of these organizations listed in 2020 (if you want to spread the love, aggregate $25 is ok). I’m not affiliated with any of these. Just DM me on Twitter or Instagram or email barredindc@gmail.com w/ some proof/mailing address. Those with * appear to have a focus on supporting immigrants.

DC Organizations 

National/International Organizations

Organizations for Racial Justice

ATTN MAYOR BOWSER – Define Restaurant, Bar and Nightclub in a Way that Makes Sense for Reopening of DC

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

[Edited to fix typos and clarify ReOpen DC Committee’s recommendation/big idea re: changing license types]

Today, Mayor Boswer’s ReOpen DC Advisory Group issued a relatively detailed 80 page plan to guide DC as it lifts the stay-at-home order (likely this Tuesday for Friday, May 29th) and “reopens” DC in a four stage process (Stage 1: declining virus transmission; Stage 2: only localized transmission; Stage 3: Sporadic transmission; Stage 4: vaccine/cure). Read a four-byline WAMU/DCist article for more details.

In addition to the incredibly important safety issues (predominant), most relevant for this website was the recommendations for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.

Restaurants: 1) Open outdoors w/ distancing; 2) Indoor seating up to 50% 3) More than 50% with case-by-case approval; 4) open 100%

Bars and Nightclubs: 1) Closed; 2) Closed; 3) 5 people per 1000 square feet w/ no more than 50% capacity (meaning 20 people max at even bigger spots) 4) open 100%

BUT, as noted in detail by Laura Hayes in an article today, THERE IS NO LEGAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN A BAR AND RESTAURANT in DC (I’ve been saying this for years pedantically but now it makes a difference). Noted liquor license attorney Andrew Kline, who was on a ReOpen DC committee, told me and Laura and that their expectation was that a “restaurant” would generally include any business with a substantial food component. Well, you can throw out a definition that makes a hot dog a sandwich, but there is no way to objectively determine which businesses have a substantial food component and those who do not. Clearly, the 850+ businesses with “restaurant” liquor licenses who are required to provide documentation to ABRA that they sell 40% of their revenue in food (or a certain $$/seat), would qualify, but what about 1) a coffee shop or other establishment that but doesn’t have a liquor license, or 2) holders of tavern (400 spots), multipurpose (45) , and nightclub (35) licenses, majority(?) of which are authorized by DCRA and Department of Health to sell food to eat on premises? These businesses may sell a substantial amount of food and meals but do not have to certify or even keep track of  their food sales to anyone, even themselves. How would a business or DC itself objectively determine what establishments have a “substantial food component”? Look at their menus?  Check Yelp reviews and count how many talk about food v. drinks?

This seems unworkable and untenable for the businesses who could be able to safely open (for staff and customers) but otherwise will be on the brink of ruin if they don’t have the same shot as similar establishments. This dooms literally 1/3 of the spots in DC to likely extinction. In many parts of DC (such as H Street) with a concentration of tavern licenses, not allowing these to open if they have the ability to serve food would leave neighborhoods with massive closures. Mayor Bowser and her Administration need to clearly define the distinction in an objective manner. Kline tells Laura that the first two phases that health officials are emphasizing allowing people to go and sit “to eat food, not necessarily where you go to drink alcohol and socialize.” But you can still goto a restaurant (which most of them serve alcohol) to drink alcohol and socialize, so I’m not sure this actually does anything.

So,here is my attempt to provide my own recommendations for Mayor Bowser:

1. Restaurant should be defined as any establishment that has received a license from DCRA (e.g. restaurant) to serve food on premises

This is clear, already-existing legal definition of restaurant. It includes both spots that don’t or do serve alcohol. It requires no subjective determination of what is a “substantial food component.”

2. All establishments allowed to open for customers to drink and eat should be held to the same standards.

If DC is worried about risky behavior happening, there is no guarantee that this will happen in a restaurant but not in a tavern. Most Sunday Funday Brunchday start (and sometimes end) at restaurant licensees. All places that are open will be closely scrutinized not only by DCRA, DOH, and ABRA, but they will be scrutinized by the general public.

If you are banning dance floors, standing, live music, etc., there’s no reason why bars and even nightclubs that have food be allowed the same ability to stay viable with outdoor seating and eventual 50% capacity as those with restaurant licenses if all operate under the same restrictions. It’s clear to me that’s why many states have banned bars in early phases, but that ignores that many bars in DC have tables and serve really good food.

Although many people will not like me even suggesting this, if it’s really a concern that you don’t want people just going out to drink with friends, do what several states have already done and require that food be purchased if alcohol is served to a customer. This would be consistent with the takeout/delivery alcohol flexibility but would allow taverns, nightclubs (DC9), and multipurpose facilities (The Hamilton) the ability to stay viable.

3. If you find a workable standard for “substantial food component,” that excludes swath of licensees, allow liberal reclassification of licenses.

If somehow you are able to RBG a workable standard for “substantial food component” and for some reason restrict this to only restaurants and maybe some taverns on a case by case basis,  you must allow all liquor-serving establishments the ability to reclassify themselves temporarily to a restaurant liquor license, even if that means they will have to partner with a food truck or ghost kitchen to provide meals. The ReOpen DC committee suggested “Flexibility for food service establishments to change the type of license they hold within the food service category” but the  term “food service” is a DCRA basic business license term which seems to imply it’s suggesting that other types of licenses like caterers, deli’s, and food products can switch to restaurant; this should clarify that ABRA licensees can move to another license if it’s necessary to be open as a “restaurant.”

You still have time to make the guidelines and the order right. Make good use of it.

Mayor Bowser Proposes More Hours and Take-Out/Delivery Alcohol For Bars and Restaurants Permanently

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

[7/6 Update:

On Tuesday, July 7th, the Council of DC will vote on the FY 2021 budget, which includes the provisions discussed below (see page 18 of the Committee Reportpage 175-180 of draft bill]

Mayor Bowser introduced her Fiscal Year 2021 proposed budget today (Mon. 5/18) and buried in the Fiscal Impact Statement from DC’s CFO (see page 33-34) that I found after some serious Googling are some smart proposals in the Alcoholic Beverage Sales and Delivery Amendment Act of 2020:

  • Permanently allow registered bars and restaurants to provide take-out and delivery alcohol (accompanied with prepared food item as is now, existing registered licensees would be grandfathered by April 1, 2021, new ones would have to request endorsement. Basic min. $200/annual fee required).
  • Allow bars and restaurants to start serving alcohol at 6a daily (great for soccer or just getting off the clock) instead of 8a (2a weekday and 3a weekend closure still in effect)
  • Allow liquor stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, breweries, distilleries to sell between 6a-1a instead of current 7a-midnight (carryout booze allowed during these hours)
  • Expand 4a last call around inauguration from current Jan 15-21st to Jan 9th-24th and a few more Fri/Sat nights around a mid-week holiday (already allowed around all federal/DC holidays). Expands from about 27 days year to about 33 days (depending on calendar)

The law will still have to be considered by the Council but these are solid, easy ideas to implement. Note that the hours in particular could still be limited by settlement agreement but I don’t expect indoor hours to be restricted before 8a except maybe when a bar is adjacent to a house and a rowdy neighbor.

For the next four years, DC expects to generate additional sales tax revenues of $635k/year (6a bars/restaurants including food), $140k/year (extra 4a), and $8k/year (iquor stores being open longer). An assumption has been made that additional delivery/takeout alcohol will be a substitute for other sales.

 

 

 

Legislation to Permit Outdoor Dining Expansion into DC Streets and Other Public Space Tabled, For Now

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

Today (Mon 5/18), DC Council Chaiman Mendelson’s staff circulated the language of the latest COVID-19 related bill. Unfortunately, although an outdoor dining expansion provision had been included after being drafted by CM Cheh and CM Allen, due to the objection of Mayor Bowser’s administration (and other unnamed entities/individuals), Chairman Mendelson’s staff noted the following:

The former Section 207 (Outdoor dining expansion) has been deleted and is expected to be refined and brought back for consideration at the Council’s June 9th meeting.  There was objection to inclusion of it at this time from several sources, including the Executive, and it was noted that the ReOpenDC Advisory Committee and ABRA are working on this issue and will have their recommendations later this month.

This was disappointing as I had been informed that several of the recommendations I had made were going to be incorporated in updated language and that waiting three weeks until the council could take up the measure would mean the loss of real dollars as it will take time for the plans to be implemented and closures approved once dining/drinking at restaurants is permitted with restrictions.

However, on the other hand, this may be beneficial-this is the first official acknowledgment that the Mayor, ReOpenDC advisory committee, and ABRA are indeed working on expanding public space usage for restaurants/bars, and a measure that has their full support would be more likely to actually allow restaurants/bars to operate in that manner. Zach Hoffman, a bartender and a leader within the DC Bar and Restaurant Workers Alliance told me on Twitter that:

I think this is actually a good move. The ReOpen Committee has a pretty interesting swath of industry and regulators on it and can probably fine tune the language and fit it into the phased re open plan. (It wasn’t going to be possible in a phase 1 roll out so there’s time).

Indeed Mayor Bowser and her administration may have the ability (due to the public health emergency) to close streets and allow dining/drinking without DC Council acting, but time will tell.

DC Council to Consider Measure on Tuesday to Close Streets for Outdoor Dining – An Analysis and Recommendations

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

[Edited to fix the incorrect members who introduced bill]
5/18 Update: Mayor Bowser’s office has convinced Chairman Mendelson to remove this from the bill and will consider it in 3 weeks:  “There was objection to inclusion of it at this time from several sources, including the Executive, and it was noted that the ReOpenDC Advisory Committee and ABRA are working on this issue and will have their recommendations later this month. See update here:] 

After publishing my open letter to Mayor Bowser and DC Council on Monday, I received tons of support and appeared on the local news in particular over the suggestion to open up outdoor spaces for dining to help keep restaurants/bars viable. Council member Kenyan McDuffie appeared soon after me on the same program to express his support for the idea (though in all fairness, it’s clear that this idea had some supporters already). Today, the DC Council circulated an emergency bill with language drafted by Charles Allen and Mary Cheh to facilitate this. I think the bill is a great start and in ways it’s more ambitious than I expected, but it has a few shortfalls. I’ll first describe exactly what this bill does and my suggestions for improvements. WBJ has another more succinct analysis here.

WHAT CURRENT LANGUAGE DOES

Under the proposed language, the following entities can apply for a free Outdoor Dining Expansion permit from DDOT to close streets/alley to vehicle traffic for up to one year after the public health emergency has ended:

  1. Business Improvement District (BID) OR
  2. Main Street Program OR
  3. Restaurant/bar with a liquor license that already has a sidewalk cafe (doesn’t have to be in a BID or Main Street Program) AND is required by Mayor to operate at a reduced capacity due to the public health emergency

For BIDs and Main Streets (more below on what these are) can seek closure for any street in their jurisdiction, and a restaurant/bar seeking it for itself can request closure anywhere on their block, not just the space in front. The application must list the restaurants/bars that will take advantage (and those restaurants/bars must already have a sidewalk cafe and operating at a reduced capacity).

DDOT is required to approve an Outdoor Dining Expansion permit and close the street to motor vehicle traffic that complies with application requirements if these conditions are met:

  1. The local ANC has sent a letter of support.
  2. Closure of public space will not cause significant pubic safety concerns.

DDOT has 30 days from receipt of permit application to approve application.

What are the 11 BID’s in DC?

Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Golden Triangle (Farragut area), Downtown (includes Chinatown/PQ), NoMa, Capitol Hill, Capitol Riverfront (Navy Yard), Southwest, Anacostia

Credit: DC BID Council (http://www.dcbidcouncil.org/map/)

What are the Main Street Programs? (bolded spaces with significant numbers restaurant/bars)

Bladensburg Road, Cleveland Park,  Congress Heights, District Bridges (Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights) Glover Park, H Street, Logan Circle, Lower Georgia (Petworth, Pleasant Plains, and Park View), Minnesota Avenue, North Capitol (Bloomingdale), Rhode Island Ave. (Woodridge), Shaw, Tenleytown, The Parks (Riggs and Manor Park), Uptown (Brightwood Park, north Columbia Heights, Upper Georgia (Brightwood and north) , U Street, Van Ness, Ward 7, Woodley Park

Barracks Row, Eastern Market, Georgetown, Dupont also have Main Street Programs but appear to already have BIDs covering the space.

What’s not covered by BID or Main Street that Has At least Some of Bars/Restaurants?

Ivy City, Brookland, Palisades. Maybe some random blocks.

BARRED IN DC ANALYSIS

I think this language is a great start, and I’m very heartened that they are being proactive about this, but there are some issues lacking that I would encourage DC Council to address ASAP between now and Tuesday:

  1. Eliminate requirement of ANC “letter of support” except for bars/restaurants that are applying separately from (or are outside of) a BID/Main Street. If a BID or Main Street has expressed support AND DDOT feels that this does not cause pubic safety issues, this should be sufficient at least to initially approve the license. BIDs and Main Streets, although imperfect, are our best system of determining quickly the best option for the business in the neighborhood. Because ANCs do have a legal and important role in DC’s government, ANC’s role with BID/Main Street applications should be limited to proposing modifications to closed streets after approval (or during the submission process) if issues arise or if residents/businesses need mitigation. In serious issues they can submit a letter of opposition. ANCs only meet monthly usually and requiring a letter of support just unnecessarily extends this issue when the agency with the most important role, DDOT, can just make this call. Otherwise, it will be likely until mid July until any restaurants/bars can take advantage, taking away the key month of June which still has mostly non-heat stroke inducing outdoor weather.
  2. Eliminate requirement that business have a liquor license.Although most sit-down restaurants in DC have liquor licenses, there are plenty of eateries that don’t which don’t that could benefit from this. I see no reason to limit this and allow eateries (or even a retail business if it makes sense to put inventory out there) the ability to serve its customers safely w/ less fear and reduction of harm to employees.
  3. Eliminate requirement that a restaurant/bar already have a sidewalk cafe endorsement to take advantage. There are bars/restaurants all across the city (see H Street) who have no ability to have a sidewalk cafe because of sidewalk clearance. Many of these bars/restaurants in fact are permitted to have summer garden’s on private space which blur the lines and have successfully dealt with the issues of having outdoor dining/drinking space. The way the text is worded-these restaurants/bars would not have the ability to have any or additional outdoor space. If the city feels that this is unfair to those restaurants/bars who already have sidewalk cafes-perhaps a nominal fee should be charged to put them on equal footing with those with endorsements already.
  4. Eliminate requirement that Mayor has reduced capacity. It’s not a given that the Mayor will reduce indoor capacity by a fixed percentage, and if so, it’s unlikely that the reduction will last for an extended period of time. In the meantime it is almost guaranteed that droves of patrons will stay away from indoor spaces even (or because of) if capacity is restored to normal. It should be sufficient that the public health emergency has been declared. Given that is highly likely that this emergency will continue until next year, this issue can be mitigated a bit by shortening the 1 year post-emergency period to 6 or 9 months. Restaurants/bars should be able to apply immediately even before end of stay-at-order.
  5. Reduce 30 day application review period to 5 or 10 days. TODAY-DDOT. should start preliminary reviewing every block in a BID and every block in a Main Street to see which blocks would be safe or not for closure or partial closure. DDOT personnel likely already know which blocks will work and which will not and because most of these streets are not back streets, this should not be that obscure of a task. If the ANC is required to submit a letter of support (and I don’t recommend), this means it could be until mid-late July before this occurs. I think it’s entirely reasonable to require DDOT approval but let’s get this done as quickly and safely as possible.
  6. Explicitly allow applications to seek partial traffic closures. Currently the language makes it seem that DDOT will close entire street block 24/7. This may not make sense (particularly when weekday traffic returns in some fashion and deliveries are made on weekdays)-lanes can be closed only in evenings or on weekends to mitigate impact to businesses on the block. In some instances only one side or even one lane needs to be closed (e.g., to satisfy people who love parking, you could push out parking lane into travel lane and make parking spots dining spots. In fact, one restaurant with the support of their BID has already suggested closing one side of one street on weekends only.
  7. Explicitly Facilitate Use of Public Space Not Used by Vehicles or Pedestrians. I found that this legislation was more ambitious than expected as it went straight to closing streets. I think that is awesome and will be a huge help but in the event DDOT or the neighboring businesses do not feel that is appropriate, the law should explicitly allow DDOT to approve restaurants/bars to use other public space not currently necessary for pedestrians or moving vehicle traffic. That is, there are often neighboring daytime or non-eatery businesses on a block who would be happy to rent or lend out their outdoor sidewalk space for dining/drinking use during other hours. In addition, in some blocks with low traffic or speed streets, it may be safe to replace the parking spaces on the block with outdoor dining/drinking spaces. Although this already may be permitted by DDOT policy, but this seems to be low hanging fruit that can be included in here to expeditiously approved.
  8. [ADDED] Make clear that this provision explicitly supersedes any more restrictive Settlement Agreements. Almost no bar/restaurant in the city with a settlement agreement (most of them?) would technically not be allowed to do this so just to avoid any issues, edit that accordingly.