Residents of the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest hailed the arrival of an upscale tavern that would rival those in the neighboring U Street corridor and in Columbia Heights. But a month from its opening, Shaw's Tavern last week closed its doors after several missteps in its efforts to obtain permits from the city.
The management team that operates the tavern at the corner of Sixth Street and Florida Avenue Northwest failed to acquire basic business, occupancy and liquor licenses from the city and was caught serving drinks last month at pre-opening events, according to a case report prepared by the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).
The case report also concluded that the booze the tavern illegally served was bought wholesale with forged documents.
It could take the ABRA board until Thanksgiving to issue conclusions based on its investigation into the liquor license infraction and permit process. So with nothing stronger than water to offer dining customers, business dropped off and owner Abbas Fathi and his team on Saturday closed the tavern they had meticulously renovated.
Now community members are rallying to save the tavern - and the promise of economic development that accompanied it.
“Inaction is the punishment,” said Caryn Nesmith, of the Bates Area Civic Association, which represents the block where the tavern is located. “ABRA needs to act. Given how much the community has voiced support, there should be some sort of fine and quickly let the tavern get back to business. We need these kinds of successes to encourage future ones.”
The Shaw community, like the H Street corridor across town and the U Street corridor blocks away, was hit hard by the 1968 riots. However, despite the 2003 opening of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the neighborhood, the restaurants, nightclubs and other drivers of economic redevelopment have yet to return to Shaw as they have to the other neighborhoods.
Shaw resident Berin Szoka has started a petition to show support and help the owners promptly get a liquor license.
“Don’t Kill Shaw’s Tavern! Shaw Needs More Successful Restaurants!” is the name of petition, which as of Thursday had more than 650 electronic signatures.
Mr. Szoka said the tavern owners should pay a fine if ordered by the board, but that the city has a tedious permit process that also is to blame.
“If you’re trying to open a business, particularly if it is a catalyst for development, the longer it takes to jump through hoops, the more communities stay stagnant.”
Diton Pashaj, owner and general manager of nearby Rustik Neighborhood Tavern, said he admires the community support given to restaurants such as his restaurant and Shaw's Tavern.
“The way the community responded and how badly they needed a sit-down place, it’s been unbelievable,” he said of his restaurant’s opening a year ago.
Mr. Pashaj also put some of the blame for the permit flap on the city government.
“Elected politicians talk about how much they need small business and how much this economy needs it, but at the same time the District’s government and all these agencies that need to facilitate businesses opening, they are the ones that make it harder,” he said.