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D.C. Mayor Gray’s plan to extend hours of night life a volatile issue
Landlords in D.C. night-life hot spots are requiring prospective tenants to attest they know what to expect after midnight when the music is cranked up and drunken revelry abounds along streets outside their apartments.
"That's the point we've reached," council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said Thursday of the signed agreements. "It's not a good point to reach."
Mr. Graham, chairman of the Committee on Human Services, outlined his opposition Thursday to Mayor Vincent C. Gray's proposal to extend bar hours by an hour — to 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends — citing noise and carousing that some say already shatters any serenity in the wee hours.
The mayor's plan is part of a fiscal 2013 budget that also permits stores that sell alcohol to open at 7 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. and establishes extended bar and restaurant hours during the weeks surrounding the presidential inaugurations in 2013 and 2017. In all, the booze-based pitch is projected to raise $5.3 million in sales-tax revenue.
Fred Moosally, director of the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration, testified his agency is reviewing the proposal's impact on inspectors' work schedules and how extended bar hours have affected other major cities.
Owners in the night-life industry supported the mayor's plan in spirited testimony before Mr. Graham's committee. They said the extra hour will create a "soft closing" that allows patrons to exit neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and U Street in an orderly fashion instead of spilling into the streets at 3 a.m.
It also provides a needed cash injection to businesses that energize D.C. streets and have driven up property values in trendy neighborhoods, they told the committee.
"I don't know any millionaire nightclub owners," David Karim, owner of Josephine Nightclub on Vermont Avenue and Policy Restaurant and Lounge on 14th Street in Northwest, among other establishments.
Club owners also say patrons are arriving later than ever, with reservations for dinner at 11 p.m. rivaling those for 6 p.m.
"Nobody walks in until 12," Seyhan Duru, owner of Teatro Goldoni on K Street and Cities Restaurant and Lounge on 19th Street in Northwest, told Mr. Graham. "We almost would be doubling our sales. It's not an exaggeration. The whole attitude's changed, the way people go out."
But Mr. Graham pointed to an equal number of concerns, citing complaints of singing, shouting, fights, car doors slamming and public urination after 3 a.m. An extension to 4 a.m. may just delay the mayhem because some bar patrons have a psychological attachment to last call, he said.
He is also worried about transportation from the bar scene, noting that Metro ends service an hour before the bars let out and taxi service may not be able to take up the slack.
Plus, he asked, shouldn't residents expect some peace and quiet before dawn?
"I think most people are not wandering the streets at 3 a.m.," Mr. Graham said.
For their part, members of the nightclub industry say noise is to be expected near popular bars.
"We have a 24-hour city, we have a 24-hour world," Skip Coburn, executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Association, said.
Committee member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said he supports the proposal. In remarks from the dais, he emphasized the size and importance of the city's immense hospitality industry.
"I don't see anything wrong with it, myself," he said.
Mr. Coburn said the extended hours should be considered on a case-by-case basis, citing unique zoning and community concerns. City regulators evaluate special requests from individual bars all the time and should be able to handle it, he said.
Nonetheless, long-standing agreements with community groups could prohibit many owners from extending their hours. Voluntary agreements between bars and neighborhood groups that mandate specified closing hours would stay in place.
Some of those agreements mirror the closing time listed by law and could take on "new significance" under the budget plan, Mr. Graham noted.
Nightclubs Mr. Karim dryly referred to the pacts as "a noose around our necks."
"There's nothing voluntary about it," he said.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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