- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2011

The hope among Shaw residents that a new, upscale tavern would spark business development has been dealt a major and perhaps final blow now that city officials have denied owners a liquor license after keeping them in limbo for months.

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Wednesday denied Shaw’s Tavernowner Abbas Fathi a license, ruling that he knowingly allowed drinks to be served in his restaurant before receiving licenses.

The neighborhood tavern, at the corner of Sixth Street and Florida Avenue Northwest, opened in August to rave food reviews and welcoming messages from longtime residents. Within weeks, however, the doors were closed because owners could not turn a profit without a liquor license, which was being held up amid an investigation into whether booze had been served illegally.

The board eventually concluded that Mr. Fathi had provided alcohol to tavern guests during two pre-opening events without acquiring the basic business, occupancy and liquor licenses from the city.

“It was such a disappointment,” ANC 2C Commissioner Rachelle Nigro said Thursday. “It provided a spark of life to the area, but we don’t want anyone doing business that doesn’t clearly follow the law.”

Mr. Fathi bears direct responsibility for permitting the consumption of alcohol on the premises, because he failed to adequately supervise his employees,” the board concluded. “We reject Mr. Fathi’s excuse that [tavern manager Steven May Jr.] told him that the establishment could host free events and fundraisers without an ABC-license … ‘ignorance of the law is no defense.’ “

Mr. May said Thursday that the events actually cost the tavern about $18,000 in food, beer, wine and payroll.

“There was no conspiracy,” he said. “We’ve just been killed on this.”

Perhaps the most damning finding in the board’s investigation was that tavern employees had “altered various parts of the [Notice of Public Hearing] document.”

As for the claim that the documents had been forged to make it appear to wholesalers that the tavern had its liquor license, Mr. May said sales representatives had been sending samples for tasting as far back as April. And management had made it clear to the wholesalers there was no physical license, only a number issued by the alcohol control board for the tavern during the permitting process.

Mr. May said Mr. Fathi plans to sit down soon with ANC members and neighbors to talk about what can be done with the shuttered tavern, as Mr. Fathi must wait five years before he can apply for another license.

“Power begins and ends with businesses that have liquor licenses,” Mr. May said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a place that makes it solely without any alcohol that is successful.”

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