Peace vs profits.  In the struggle between complete alcohol business liberty to sell profitably whatever and whenever a customer wants, and the residents' legal right to peace, order, and quiet lies the battleground of alcohol licensing.

Unfortunately for the residents, the political system has tilted the battleground to the side with the most and best lawyers rather than the best case by ordaining an adversarial system with the burden of proof on the affected residents and a procedure more for the courtroom than the licensing department.

Now, that system is under threat to be further burdened with a residents' requirement to default to representation by the neighborhood advisory commission or citizens association and then only after the business had a chance to present its case to that body. More procedure, more barriers, more invasion of peace, order, and quiet by default.

Someone needs to step in for the residents before nightclubs envelop the neighborhoods' peace, order, and quiet.

We expect to address:
Resident input when changes are proposed for alcohol business licenses and rules;
    Rules and procedures for the Alcohol Beverage Control Board for sensible resident voice;
        DC Council procedures for public hearings on alcohol measures.

Sanity News

May 22  ABC Board help public hearing on Borderstan 14th & U Streets moratorium.  The four affected ANCs all argued against it in reporting a 28-2 cumulative votes by the commissioners. In contrast, three affected citizens associations (Shaw Dupont, Meridian Hill, and Dupont) reported large majorites voting for moratorium. Board Chair Miller wondered about such a disconnect  as the question of business liberty versus neighbors' peace, order, and quiet was clearly posed.  A fair report by Dave MaAuley.

May 22 Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans announced his opposition to the Borderstan 14th & U Streets moratorium. 

May 21 ANC2B held a listening session on renewal of the 17th St (East Dupont) moratorium with about 30 residents plus most of the ANC2B Commissioners and three past commissioners.  Opinion was divided among the speakers with a slim majority in favor of keeping the moratorium amended to admit more restaurants but no new taverns or nighclubs.  One speaker said he represented the 450 people who signed a petition in 2009 against the last renewal, and former commissioner Bob Meehan spoke for the peace, order, and quiet of the 400-600 residents across 17th Street from the alcohol businesses. He noted that 17th Street was different from the other city  alcohol areas which had businesses on both sides of the street. One exception to that rule is the 1300 block of 18th Street opposite the back doors of part of Club Central (south of Dupont Circle). 

May 8.  ANC2B drove the final nail in the coffin of a proposed 14th & U Streets five-year moratorium as it joined the three other affected ANCs (1B, 2F, and 6E) in opposition.The 2B resolution of disapproval carried  by 6-1 (Abigail Nichols opposing) and claimed superiority for other available solutions without proposing any move in any direction. Three presidents of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association argued to the need of a halt to continued degeneration of the neighborhood as alcohol pushes retailers out by outbidding them for space. 

April 17. ANC2B held listening session on 14th & U Streets proposed moratorium; at Chastleton Apartments building 1701 16th St .Read moratorium proposal.    A few interested residents added to the several ANC commissioners and civic activists.

April 10. Nightlife Association at ANC2B meeting showed two new posters for member businesses: one against sexual harrasssment and one about fake college ids. Also announced a best practices booklet available on its website. 

Apr 10.  Police Chief Lanier's public speech said that more than ten bars in a block quadruples the work for police officers. We need to respect such data as recognizing the price the community pays for the liberty to carouse.

Apr 10. Georgetown Current newspaper reports that ANC2E blessed a liquor license provided no music is played on its roof deck, and a license allowing no outside speaker system.

ANC2F and ANC1B voted unanimously against the Borderstan moratorium proposal in April. The opposers hate the collateral damage to the neighborhood but want to do specific remedies.

April 4. ANC 1B voted unanimously against the 14th and U Streets moratorium. ANC1B ABC Committee had voted 10 to 3 against. Note: ANC 6E voted against it in February.  [Report by Dave McAuley of Borderstan.]

April 3.  ANC2F unanimously approved a Resolution to oppose 14th and U Streets moratorium.

April 1. Sign seen outside a London (England) Bloomsbury pub [Marquis Cornwallis] opposite a large hotel and multi-apartment residential building: No drinking outside after 9:30PM. Another Bloomsbury pub [George and Dragon] closes at 11 PM.  The 24/7 city protects its residents and visitors.

March 20. Three ANCs (1B, 2B, and 2F) that comprise Borderstan invited public comment at a Joint Listening Session on a proposed Liquor License Moratorium for 14th and U Streets area  The petition for the moratorium was submitted jointly by the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance and the Residential Action Coalition, and later supported by the Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association.  First, the entire proposal was read to the crowd of 160. Then 47 gave two-minute speeches on the subject.   Comments, counting about 6:1 against, ranged from "how silly" to "must have"; showed 6:1 opposition. .  ABRA announced a public hearing for May 22 at 1:30 PM which eliminates working folk from convenient access.  Longer report by Borderstan's David McAuley.    Draft Resolution and delay proposal

March 13. Abigail Nichols elected as ANC Commissioner for ANC2B05. 

Feb 21, 2013 Abigail Nichols testified for more resident input at Jim Graham Committee on oversight of ABRA. Part of her recommendations were seconded by the Chair of the Alcohol Control Board, Ruth Ann Miller.

Dec 18, 2012. The Council passed the Omnibus Alcohol bill that gave alcohol business most of what in wanted, including more barriers to residents' self-protection.  ANCs got their first real authority to override "Group of Five" protests to licenses. Residents' groups fear the misuse of such authority.  Although business can fend for itself on ignored economic effects like market saturation, at least some businesses will invuite later drinking and resultant neighborhood problems that the law lets them ignore.

Dec 12. OpEd letter by John Hammond in Northwest Current.

Dec 12. ANC2B (Dupont Circle) voted to object to the provision in the Omnibus Alcohol bill that would dismiss a "group of five" if and when the ANC makes a Voluntary Agreement.  Those in favor cited basic democracy principles even though recognizing the ABC Board's problem with many inappropriate time-consuming protests from small groups.

Dec 4. In a marathon session of the DC Council, on his own motion, CM Jim Graham removed several objectionable measures from the alcohol bill.  As a result any residents who would be harmed by the proposed business operations can still file a protest without regard to distance from the business; there are no new requirements for citizens and civic associations; and noise will be measured as heard (not after the business closes any open doors and windows). Citing uneven response times by the ABC Board, Mr. Graham also introduced a requirement that its decisions on protests be made within 60 days.  The Council accepted CM Mary Cheh’s amendment requiring the ABC Board to examine the fitness of applicants and their past violations at other establishments to ascertain their worthiness for licensing. However, Cheh was not successful in getting rid of the provisions to dismiss a resident group protests if the Advisory Neighborhood Commission reached their own  Voluntary Agreement. The votes on this important effort were Yes votes in support of getting ride of dismissal by CM’s McDuffie, Alexander, Boswer, Cheh and Mendelson and No’s from Graham, Orange, Barry, Evans, Catania, Brown and Wells. The amended bill passed unanimously. A final vote on the bill occurs December 18. Civic activists left yesterday’s Council vote considering next steps regarding the remaining problems with the bill (dismissal of citizen groups and overly specified and sometimes wrong-headed voluntary agreement requirements).

Dec 2. Coalition posts on its website a compilation of all resident group resolutions opposing resident input provisions the Graham bill.  Lower resolution diet version of compilation only 2.9MB. 

Nov 29. Ward 2 Council Member  Jack Evans gets scolded by small biz manager Mike Lee in the Washington Blade for listening to residents' howling at his ignoring their right to peace, order, and quiet near nightclubs regardless of 2500 messages from the nightlifers that flooded his office in the Hank's Oyster Bar case. Lee also scolds the alcohol licensing system for allowing the miniscule gallery of residents a voice in "anything goes" alcohol business operations.

Nov 27. Council Chair Phil Mendelson was peppered with questions and criticisms of the Graham bill at a public meeting of the DC Federation of Citizens Associations. He noted that the businesses viscerally dislike having a few residents able to slow and pester their establishing the business.   One veteran of the alcohol licensing negotiations noted that the core of the problem is the rigid procedures dictated by the ABC Board to identify and resolve residents' questions about the appropriateness of the business's plans.

Nov 26. Nightlifers appeal for unbridled business liberty to ignore any resident demands for peace, order, and quiet. Or any other restriction. Their list starts with STOP SMALL GROUPS BLOCKING LICENSING.

Nov 21. Northwest Current newspaper on spirited questions on Graham bill; cites Dupont Circle activism on residents' rights to protest.

Nov 20. Washington Post story on "revamp" of alcohol bill cites Dupont Circle activism on residents' rights to protest. ; AP publishes condensed version.

Nov 18. Uniformed police detail of five on foot and bike at 2AM in Club Central.

Nov 14. The express train for the Graham Omnibus Bill was shunted to a siding while the Council considers some late-breaking outcry from resident organizations. The new schedule apparently defers final judgment and consideration of amendments for at least three weeks.

Nov 14.Press Release by the Coalition seeks changes to the Graham bill.

Nov 13. ANCs and Citizens Groups Press Release.

Nov 10.  The DC Council Human Services Committee OK'd a Jim Graham bill that reduces the opportunity for residents [Group of Five] to engage the ABC Board in controlling harm to residents from nearby nightclubs. Second reading due on or after November 28.

Sanity Action Items

  • Quiet. Why do bars and drinkers make so much noise as a rhythmic beat (some call it music) booms out of nightclub areas?  It sells more alcohol. Whatever the mechanism, a conclusive French Saturday nights experiment showed that young males would consume their beer 20% faster when the room sound grew from normal to loud (where conversation was nearly impossible).  Businesses love a 20% kicker for sales. Another experiment showed that alcohol tastes sweeter in the presence of loud music. Which is fine for the drinkers who have the option of avoiding that bar. Not so fine for the serving staff's young ears.  The residents' trouble comes from the music/ noise escaping into the neighborhood where "peace order and quiet" are shattered to a degree within several hundred feet.  And although DC law forbids disturbing the residential neighborhood's "peace, order, and quiet,"  enforcement against the sound blaster seems negligible, even when the bar has made a Voluntary Agreement with the neighbors as a condition of its alcohol license.  Neither the police nor the Alcohol Beverage Control Board finds the problem worthy of its attention.  

    ACTION shut the bar doors and windows, and close outdoor venues after 10:30 PM near residences.

  • Numbers. Data tell the facts. In a recent negotiation of a Voluntary Agreement on 18th Street NW when it was suggested the nasty questions of how much noise could be settled with data from a sound meter, the city could not come up with an instrument. If it cared about the problem, it would have the equipment and a qualified operator reasonably available to provide data on actual noise and noise attentuation.

    ACTION: equip the city with the equipment, enough operators, noise standards inside residences, and a data reliance attitude.

  • Convenience. The Alcohol Control Board exploits adversarial procedure to put the burden of proof on the resident to show damage. And it schedules hearings for the convenience of the board during working hours for the residents. The only winners are the attorneys representing the businesses.  BTW: business dislikes the uncertainty in the timetable for their presence also.

    ACTION: adopt procedures and schedules convenient for both businesses and residents.

  • Shh, folks sleeping. With their tongues lubricated, their hearing deadened, and their steps unsteady, the drinkers emerge in the wee hours into residential neighborhoods near the bars to search for their cars. Several shout to their friends, or to the incorporal air under the windows of the apartment buildings and houses.

    ACTION: Bars post good neighbor signs, and issue reminders.

  • Help, police. Because reimbursable police details for bars dried up when money could no longer be found, more chaos happens at the bar's entrances. The presence of a uniform helps restrain the mess. We recently saw a vivid demonstration of police presence in front of a bar where football fans gathered before the big game within walking distance of thebar, shouting and waving while quaffing their beer, all in good order, surrounded by a ring of about fifteen uniformed police officers. No, it wasn't DC; it was London where football loyalties are strong and many bars ban flouting a team's colors.

    ACTION: Restore visible police presence after midnight in bar centers.

    ACTION TAKEN: Police presence at Club Central (south of Dupont) Sunday Nov 18 at 2 AM: five uniformed officers on foot and bike.  Police chief thanked Abigail Nichols for noticing the police presence.

  • Enough is enough.  Even though business may ignore market saturation in its optimism of emulating other bars' profits, converting commercial zones into nothing but bars raises pressure on the neighborhood at night and downgrades the neighborhood in the daytime. Residential property fall as the neighborhood becomes a combat zone.  

    ACTION:  consider a moratorium when bar density reaches a threshold.

  • A stacked deck. The ABC Board's licensing process requires reidents to jump through hoops just to be admitted to protest the terms of a license. It's the terms, not the license itself, that need control . Yet the burden of proof lies on the protesters who are usually unrepresented by counsel and groping for the right arguments in the presence of the business's experienced counsel. The fairest solution is a voluntary agreement between business and the neighbors, but the Board declares safe neutrality and in the absence of an agreement is free to grant the business everything it asks for. Although the Board in principle offers a mediating service for negotiation, our experience has been nearly complete insensitivity to the situation of the residents. What's needed is real help in mediation in a situation of legal asymmetry of information.

    ACTION: Amend the Board's process to offer effective mediation and Board consideration of the situation in the event of an impasse. 

  • Moratorium. We should be careful in reaching for a blunt tool, like an alcohol license moratorium, with which to hammer a persistent problem.We should remember that trees do not grow to the sky and nightclubs do not expand to infinity. Several moratoriums already are in force in the city, and another is proposed for the Borderstan area of 14th and U Streets. A moratorium freezes and rewards current operators, both the good and the bad, with a oligopoly. We should also remember that capitalism is the greatest total wealth generator, and the alcohol business is capitalism in action, generating tax revenue for the city, although with some nasty side effects.One side effect is the irresistible ability of profit to influence law-making, as has happened in DC. The other irresistible side effect is the incentive to dump as many costs on the public as possible (privatize profit and socialize costs). Noise, trash, and rowdy customers are dumped on the club's neighborhood.   Capitalism will eventually end the growth of nightclubs in any area when market saturation drives down the profit margins of most of the operators. And containing the side effects can be done by public pressure through the peace, order, and quiet provisions of alcohol law and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. See more on the moratoriums: rules, history, and coming events.

    ACTION:  Seek Settlement Agreements with alcohol businesses to clean up their own acts. 

Where are the biggest problems for residents? Club Central south of Dupont Circle, P & 21st Streets, Adams Morgan, Verizon Center, Georgetown, 14th & U Streets.  You tell us where else.

ACTION: DC residents: Write the DC Council to urge responsible action on alcohol business's side effects on residents / voters.

  • Ward 1 Jim Graham
  • Ward 2 Jack Evans
  • Ward 3 Mary Cheh
  • Ward 4 Muriel Bowser
  • Ward 5 Kevin McDuffie
  • Ward 6 Tommy Wells
  • Ward 7 Yvette Alexander
  • Ward 8 Marion Barry
  • at-large Anita Bonds
  • at-large David Catania
  • at-large Vincent Orange
  • Chair Phil Mendelson
Note: identify yourself as a constituent; use your own polite but firm words; refer to problems (actual or potential) with alcohol business(es) in your neighborhood that would need your freedom to fix. 

or use
 message form 
with example messages;
courtesy of

Published by Abigail Nichols, 1325 18th St NW, Washington DC       e-mail Abigail Nichols        Last update June 7, 2013