- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

Residents of the Brookland community in Northeast D.C. yesterday crowded into the monthly hearing of the Alcoholic Beverage Commission to challenge the liquor license renewal of Nate's Comfort Zone.
So many came that the meeting will continue Sept. 5.
The community is divided on the issue, with longtime, mostly black residents supporting the license renewal, while more recent arrivals, mostly white, are opposed.
Protestors said weekend bar patrons constantly fight, urinate, loiter, curse, park illegally and litter yards and the street. Bar supporters say white residents are trying to force Nate's black clientele and black owner, Nathan Murray, out of the neighborhood.
Mr. Murray's lawyer, Michael Levy, yesterday asked for a continuance until the ABC investigator's report was complete and another witness could be found, but the motion was denied. Mr. Levy presented seven of his initial 12 witnesses.
Head complainant and lawyer Ed Gilbride had an opportunity yesterday to present his side of the argument, which included four videotapes of presumed patrons causing disruption in the area and two or three witnesses.
The case tests the District's new statute, which states that the Advisory Neighborhood Commission has "great weight" in these circumstances. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Darcy Flynn said the ANC will meet today at 6 p.m. to vote on whether to endorse his testimony against the license renewal.
At the beginning of the meeting, ABC Chairman Roderic L. Woodson addressed concerns that the board is in favor of business interests.
"There is no fix in at this board," Mr. Woodson said.
"There never has been on this board, although I cannot assume that for our predecessors."
Mr. Levy and Mr. Murray's supporters said the ruckus neighbors are griping about comes from people outside the bar, not patrons.
Albert Ceccone, a real estate agent, denied claims that Nate's decreased property values. He said the community has had a 16 percent rise in property value recently. Only two other neighborhoods in the District have experienced a larger increase, he said.
Lavina Jernagin has lived across the street from Nate's since 1956. There were a few minor noise problems over the years, but everyone tolerated it — maybe because the owner of the club was white, Ms. Jernagin said.
She said there were problems earlier this year when the bar began playing hip-hop and top 40 tunes. On Fridays some people would come down the street from other bars and stand on the corner of 12th and Kerney streets NE.
"I think they want this black business owner out of the neighborhood," she said.
Once Mr. Murray was notified of problems, he hired a guard to stop people from loitering, aimed speakers away from the doors, lowered the volume and changed the music back to jazz and oldies. Mr. Murray said his clientele has always been middle-aged people, not the youngsters, who are causing the trouble.
Most residents feel the race issue is being played up too much.
Brookland resident Jeff Wilson supports a suspension of the bar's license. He said the community has been trying to curb the rowdy behavior of nearby Catholic University students.
"I think the race card is irrelevant," Mr. Wilson said.
"We just want something done. I've seen the tapes from a neighbor, and they are pretty bad."

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