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Adams Morgan lifts moratorium on restaurant liquor licenses, but not taverns, nightclubs

Wednesday - 7/9/2014, 11:15am  ET

D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board lifted a five-year moratorium on restaurant liquor licenses Wednesday, but chose to keep in place the ban on new tavern or nightclub licenses.

The change will allow new restaurants to apply for Class C licenses at any location rather than obtaining one from an existing active licensee or a closed restaurant whose license has been held in safekeeping.

It hasn’t necessarily been difficult for new Adams Morgan restaurants to get their liquor licenses during the past year or so; there have been restaurants opening in the neighborhood left and right.

That’s because restaurants moving into an existing restaurant space can take over the license there. As of March, there were also eight restaurant licenses in safekeeping from closed establishments, including Mr. Henry (at 18356 Columbia Road NW) and Slaviya (at 2424 19th St. NW).

The neighborhood has in some cases seen restaurant development as a preferred alternative to more bar and nightlife development, and Adams Morgan is increasingly being seen as a dining destination.

The local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 1C, supported the change, arguing that “allowing additional restaurant licenses within the moratorium zone can foster competition among existing establishments, raise the level of quality and positively impact the adverse conditions that persist in Adams Morgan.” (Those adverse conditions being issues of peace and quiet, traffic and parking.)

The more difficult license to obtain under the moratorium is the tavern license; the moratorium restricts the total number of tavern licenses — which don’t have a food sales requirement — to 10, and there are currently none of those licenses in safekeeping.

Existing tavern licenses are held by spots you would expect: Madam’s Organ, Pharmacy Bar, Town Tavern, but also some establishments that operate more as restaurants, including Mellow Mushroom and Smoke & Barrel.

The new moratorium was also set for three years — instead of the five years the last moratorium was implemented for — in order to allow the board to examine its effects sooner. The Adams Morgan liquor license moratorium is the second largest in the city after Georgetown.

The ANC also requested the ABC board include a prohibition on bar crawls in the neighborhood, but prohibition of bar crawls was not included in the moratorium ruling, with the board instead suggesting that those events should be dealt with through settlement agreements with individual licensees that might participate in bar crawls.

© 2014 American City Business Journals, Inc.