Wednesday, December 3, 2008

These are heady times.

Hoping to tap in to an inaugural bonanza, the D.C. Council Tuesday night voted in favor of extending last call to 5 a.m. and allow bars and restaurants to serve food around the clock during inauguration week.

Millions of visitors are expected to descend on the city to celebrate Barack Obama’s presidential swearing-in on Jan. 20. The council hopes to accommodate the throng by allowing licensed restaurants and taverns to serve drinks later and to keep their doors open 24 hours a day for the whole week.

At the request of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, the legislation excluded nightclubs, which would have had to continue observing the current closing hour of 2 a.m. However, council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, moved after the vote to remove the nightclub exclusion from the bill, and his amendment carried 8-5.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, who introduced the bill, said the measure will allow the city’s entertainment industry to “engage fully” in inauguration week, which includes Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 19.

Mr. Graham said the measure also will encourage celebrations that are safely indoors. He pointed to the boisterous revelers on election night as an example for the city to try to avoid.

“On election night there were just throngs of people who were pouring into the street, and I think people may be safer celebrating inside than be wandering the streets,” he said.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, was the only dissenting voice. He noted that robberies and assaults often occur after last call, and police will not have extra manpower on hand at 5 a.m. Incidents of driving under the influence are also likely to increase, he said.

“Sure, it’s good for business, but that is not the reason we should be doing this,” he said.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, said at a press conference on Monday that the bill would allow the city to cash in on a lot of extra revenue.

Mr. Graham agreed.

“It’s not a principal factor behind the legislation, but given these economic times it is a factor,” he said. “There are certainly concerns regarding city revenue, and with the inauguration there’s definitely a lot to be had,” he said.

City officials said that such an extension is unprecedented for an inauguration, but that it does not seriously affect plans the city has in place.

Cynthia Simms, spokeswoman for the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration, said the city has not extended last call for previous inaugurations, but that the District allows licensed establishments to serve drinks until 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

“I can’t speculate on how many people are going to be out that week, but it doesn’t look like it will be on a small scale,” she said.

Local bars and restaurants are salivating at the thought of serving customers for extended hours.

“I think it is a great idea,” said Gavin Coleman, general manager of the Dubliner, an Irish tavern on Capitol Hill. “Given the [inauguration’s] historic nature, I think extending the hours would be beneficial for all the visitors and the bars as well.”

Neighborhood Advisory Commissioner Nancy Shia, who represents the bar-heavy Adams Morgan neighborhood, is unhappy with the legislation.

“I don’t see why they have to increase the sale of alcohol. Alcohol makes chaos. That means that the businesses will make a lot of money but the city will have to pay for all the police and there will be more DUIs,” she said.

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