The new Bar Charley at 1825 18th Street NW (at the former site of Cajun Experience and Inti Peruvian Restaurant) has applied for a “substantial change” to extend the allowable interior hours for its existing liquor license from 11pm/12am (current) to 2am/3am (proposed). Below is a Q & A to help understand the application and the process.
This item will be on the ANC’s November 13th public meeting agenda. Residents should contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and 2B01 Commissioner Mike Feldstein (email@example.com) with comments and feedback, and also feel free to comment below.
What kind of license does Bar Charley currently have?
Bar Charley currently has a “CR” (restaurant) license, which was transferred from the prior owners of Cajun Experience.
What does a CR license mean?
A CR license means that the establishment is a restaurant with both full food service and full liquor service (beer, wine, spirits). A CR licensee must earn a certain percentage of income from food (as opposed to drink). In addition, a CR establishment must keep the kitchen open until (at most) 2 hours before closing. The food requirements for a CR license are more stringent than other types of licenses, such as “CT” (tavern) or “CN” (nightclub) licenses.
What is Bar Charley’s request?
Bar Charley is requesting to extend its interior sales/service/operation hours by 3 hours. Currently, Bar Charley stops all sales/service/operation at 11:00pm Sunday through Thursday, and by 12:00am Friday and Saturday. The proposal is to have these hours extended to 2:00am Sunday-Thursday and 3:00am Friday-Saturday.
What is a “substantial change”?
“Substantial change” is a term of art in the D.C. liquor law. Examples of changes that usually count as “substantial” are changes in hours, the addition of a sidewalk cafe or summer garden, or the addition of entertainment, among others.
Would the exterior hours of the summer garden change?
No, there would be no change to the exterior hours. The summer garden in the back of the establishment has hours ending at 11:00pm Sunday through Thursday and 12:00am Friday and Saturday. These are the same hours that Inti and Cajun Experience also had for this summer garden. This is also consistent with the ANC’s preferred times for outdoor space next to residents. The policy of the ANC for many years has been to ask any establishment with outdoor space near to residents to close by 11pm/12am.
Would the type of license change?
No. Bar Charley would remain a CR (restaurant) licensee, subject to all the requirements of a CR license.
Do any of the nearby establishments have 2am/3am interior hours in their licenses?
Yes. In that block, both Mum Mum (the former Straits of Malaya and Zabb Asian Diner) and Larry’s Lounge already have 2am/3am interior hours in their licenses. Notably, Larry’s Lounge is a CT (tavern) license, meaning it has less food requirement. Lauriol Plaza has license hours limited to 1am/2am (interior) and 11pm/12am (exterior).
Is this some kind of “special permission”?
No. The legal limit in D.C. for the sales/service/operation of liquor for any restaurant, bar, tavern, or nightclub is 2am/3am hours. Most of licenses in the neighborhood — including restaurants — have 2am/3am hours written in their licenses. And most applicants for new licenses that come before the ANC ask for the maximum hours.
Why does Bar Charley only have 11am/12am hours now?
The owners of Cajun Experience chose not to apply for later hours, and Bar Charley received that existing license from Cajun Experience.
Would having 2am/3am hours in the license mean the establishment will be open the maximum hours every night?
No. It would mean the establishment would have permission to be open until the legal limit hours. Many establishments in the neighborhood with such permission close earlier — either on a regular basis or on an ad hoc basis if they are not busy on a given night.
This is a new owner/operator in the neighborhood. Do they have a track record we can review?
Yes. The ANC always tries to look at the owner’s/operator’s history as a matter of due diligence for any application. Here, the owners of Bar Charley also own El Chucho. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Agency (ABRA) shared the agency’s investigative history of El Chucho, which is attached here: El-Chucho-Investigative-History(11-1-13). The only activity is a warning that ABRA issued to El Chucho for a late quarterly statement in 2012. We also have the investigative history for Bar Charley itself, but because Bar Charley is so new, there is nothing in that history: Bar-Charley-Investigative-History(11-1-13).
What does the ANC usually do with an application like this?
For any given application, the ANC can vote to support or protest the application, or to take no action at all. The ANC does not normally protest a request for an extension of interior hours only. In addition, when establishments voluntarily abide by the ANC’s public space guidelines (11pm/12am exterior hours near residents), we generally vote to support such an application — as a means of reinforcing our guidelines and providing an incentive for establishments to follow those hours without having to protest or negotiate.
Would this change of hours set a precedent for this commercial strip?
No. Except for Lauriol Plaza, the other establishments on this block already have 2am/3am hours in their licenses.
If this goes forward, would Lauriol Plaza get extended hours?
No. To change its hours, Lauriol Plaza would also have to apply for them. Because Lauriol Plaza has a “Voluntary Agreement” listing its hours, a request to extend hours could only be made during license renewal (every three years, which for Lauriol Plaza would be earliest in 2016). The request would be subject to all the same public notice, placarding, and protest procedures as any other liquor license application. In addition, Lauriol Plaza is easily distinguished from Bar Charley and other establishments by its sheer size, multiple levels, parking lots, and operation as a “destination” restaurant for suburbanites and out-of-towners.
What has the reaction been from neighbors so far?
I have received many requests to support the application and many requests to protest the application, in roughly equal number. That said, I don’t view my decision-making on the ANC as just being the mouthpiece of a majority, but as requiring my best judgment based on available information, experience, fairness, and institutional integrity.
What is your proposed action for the ANC?
Based on all the information above, I plan to propose that the ANC support the application. Here is a summary of the grounds for my proposed action:
- The applicant will not be changing exterior hours;
- The applicant is abiding voluntarily by the ANC’s public space guidelines for exterior hours;
- The applicant is a CR restaurant license serving real lunch and dinner food;
- The owner/operator does not have a negative ABRA history, either here or at El Chucho;
- The interior of Bar Charley is below grade, which helps muffle noise;
- I see no persuasive rationale for treating Bar Charley differently than Mum Mum (a much larger, above-ground, multi-level space), which already has these hours — and indeed I think it would be unfair to treat Bar Charley more strictly;
- I see no risk that this change will alter the general make-up of this strip, and in particular it will not affect Lauriol Plaza’s hours; and
- The ANC generally votes to support applications like this in other parts of the neighborhood that are right next door to residents — such as on 17th Street, U Street, and 14th Street — and I see no persuasive rationale to treat Bar Charley more strictly.
What is the timeline for this application, and how can I participate?
Any petition to protest is due to ABRA by November 25th. Thereafter, the “Roll Call” hearing to formally lodge protestants will be on December 9th. Eligible protestants include the ANC, the DCCA, abutting property owners, and any group of 5 or more residents. Please communicate with me and Mike Feldstein (contact info above) with questions or concerns. The ANC meeting on this item will be on Wednesday, November 13th from 7:00pm to 10:00pm at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Mass Ave NW.