- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

The D.C. Council will hear arguments today on a proposal to ban cover charges and limit the size of dance floors to 100 square feet at bars and restaurants changes many bar owners, patrons and musicians say would deliver a serious blow to the District's cultural night life.
"It's like anthrax to the social vivacity of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas because people come to Washington to meet and express and have social interchange," says Al Jirikowic, owner of Chief Ike's Mambo Room, a bar on Columbia Road in Northwest.
"It would put a considerable amount of businesses out of business," he said, citing the dozens of bars and restaurants across the city that allow spontaneous dancing and depend on cover charges to pay for live musicians and disc jockeys.
Drafted by D.C. Council member Jack Evans, the D.C. Official Code Restaurant Definition Amendment Act proposes that bars and restaurants be allowed to "offer entertainment but shall not charge admission or a cover charge to guests." The bill says that "the size of the dance floor in a restaurant shall not exceed 100 square feet or 10 percent of the restaurant, whichever is smaller …."
Mr. Evans told The Washington Times yesterday that his goal in drafting the legislation was "to bring some kind of consensus from the some of the city's restaurant-slash-nightclub operators to deal with noise and other problems that these establishments are creating."
He said the bill would "get everybody's attention" and foster a dialogue between the community, D.C. Council members and bar and restaurant owners. "I've got a baseball bat out and I say I'm going to kill a fly on the table, [the bill] is a way to wake up the city," he said.
Rick Massumi, a long-time resident of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Northwest, said Mr. Evans is trying to show that restaurants and bars in the District are "masquerading as nightclubs and we should force them to be licensed as nightclubs."
Mr. Massumi called it "a dirty trick" on the part of Mr. Evans, because there are strict limitations on the licensing of nightclubs in the city. He said that as word of the proposed bill has spread, there has been "a groundspring of interest in it among members of the general public."
"If passed, the bill would drive live music in small venues out of town," states a notice posted on the Web site of the D.C. Blues Society. The notice, at www.dcblues.org, encourages residents to testify on the matter before a public hearing being held today before the D.C. Council's Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
"Evans has no idea that the same constituency he wants to kill is the same constituency that is driving the economic rebirth of the District," said Bill Duggan, owner of Madam's Organ Restaurant and Bar, which frequently features live bands on 18th Street in Northwest.
The Washington Times first reported in July that Mr. Duggan and Mr. Jirikowic, along with bar owner Fasika Mariam of Fasika's Ethiopian Restaurant, complained that their liquor licenses were not renewed after they declined to donate money to two advisory neighborhood commissioners.
Eleanor Johnson and Jobi Jovanka, members of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, denied any wrongdoing.
Frederic Harwood, executive director of the D.C. Licensed Beverage Association, a nonprofit group that supports bar, tavern, nightclub and restaurant owners, said the bill would make it illegal for establishments to have a dance floor that holds more than "maybe 20 people or 10 couples."
"It's going to put such a damper on night life in the District at a time when we should be encouraging and building night life in this city," Mr. Harwood said.
Mr. Evans conceded that the new restrictions called for in the bill are "a bit of overkill," but he said without them, "nobody would listen."
Final legal action taken by the D.C. Council to bring reform to regulations on bars and restaurants, Mr. Evans said, will likely be shaped by the recommendations of a new committee recently formed under the D.C. Alcoholic Control Board.
Roderic L. Woodson, chairman of the board, said that for the D.C. Council to accept Mr. Evans' bill would be premature without reviewing the board's suggestions on reform. The board has appointed a restaurant advisory committee, which is expected to present recommendations within the next few weeks, he said.
For now, bar owners and patrons are faced with the prospect of Mr. Evans' proposed bill, which will be the subject of a public hearing at 10 a.m. today at the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue.
"The lubrication and glue of a city is in its night life," said Mr. Jirikowic. "This bill would put a big boot on that."


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