Friday Question of the Day – Should the Adams Morgan Liquor License Moratorium be Lifted?

From ANC1C representing Adams Morgan:

ABC and Public Safety Committee
Wednesday, February 13, 7:00 PM
Kalorama Recreation Center, 1875 Columbia Road NW

Adams Morgan Moratorium. The Committee will continue discussion of the Adams Morgan Moratorium on alcohol licenses. The current Moratorium will expire early in 2014 and the Commission will need to let the ABC Board know how the community would like to proceed by fall of 2013. The Committee will endeavor to establish a schedule over which the discussion will continue, and to identify the topics that are likely to be considered along the way. The Committee will not vote concerning the substance of the Moratorium itself at this time.

While debate has once again started again around a proposed U street liquor license moratorium – I’m wondering what folks think of the one currently in place in Adams Morgan. Do you think it has worked in diversifying retail and adding daytime vitality to the neighborhood? Do you think it should expire in 2014?


89 Comment

  • Moratoriums just drives the price higher in that market (I’m looking at you, Mayor Gray, with your “affordable housing” proposal). MORE SUPPLY IS NEEDED in any market. Restaurants, bars, housing, grocery stores, anything. We need to remove these limits so that people who own or want to own businesses can open them and allow competition to drive the prices down. Everything in this city seems to get more expensive by the month it seems like.

    To get back on topic, there are many more places to go to bars now than Adams Morgan than there used to be. Lift it and see what happens. Maybe there will be more restaurants too.

    • How is more supply needed in any market? That doesn’t make sense. If there were seven bowling alleys next to each other, wouldn’t that be too much supply?

      • If there were 7 bowling alleys in a row they would compete against each other for our business and the ones that were bad at running a business or offered an inferior product would fail. We don’t need the city to hold down supply artificially; that hurts consumers and potential new entrants and helps existing businesses.

        • isn’t Bedrock Billiards still open on Columbia Road?

        • “they would compete against each other for our business and the ones that were bad at running a business or offered an inferior product would fail.”

          So after all that we’d be back at square one?

      • It would be nice if DC had any bowling alleys. The only one I know of is the “club/bowling alley” at Gallery Place.

        • there are a few inside the beltway.

          • Yeah, but not everything inside the beltway is DC. With the amount of people playing kickball, softball, bocce and what not I bet you would have no problem filling a standard AMF style establishment in NW or theH Street area with leagues every night. Somewhere people could easily get to after work and take public transit home from after having a couple drinks.

          • I remember hearing the bowling alley at Fort Meyer is decently priced.

          • That’s all true, but the combination of residents wanting fewer bad externalities related to bars (puking, fighting, yelling) and current bar owners wanting to protect their “monopoly” is what drives these moratoriums. No politician in their right mind would say no to these voters and taxpayers.

            A further point, commentators who pray to their economics textbook every night (not a dig at all) tend to favor no moraritoriums on bars and more condos because there’s a demand out there for them and the city should satisfy it. But, rule number one of economics is people are selfish. I love the city and I want to maximize my enjoyment of it. Selfishly, building condos/more bars does nothing for me (My rent is solid and I have my favorite dozen or so establishments). Affordable housing I’d selfishly be in favor of, to a point. (When I fell in love with the city, affordable housing was part of its core and I don’t want to risk my love of the city by changing that. And selfishly, I want people of all classes to enjoy the city and I value protecting our own.)

            Please refrain from telling me how to maximize my own enjoyment and my city’s potential.

        • PoP announced a few days ago that a bowling alley will be opening in the newly renovated mall in Georgetown. But I’m sure it will be just as overpriced as the Gallery Place alleys (which suck, IMO.)

          I really dislike “upscale” urban bowling alleys. I like smelly shoes, worn wood floors, bad polyester clothing, and the stains of 50 years of cigarette smoke. Along with cheap, flat beer.

          • I prefer upscale bowling alleys with waitresses in scantily clad attire myself. It is pretty expensive though, I will grant you that.

    • Where’s is the Affordable Drinking movement!

  • This moratorium hasn’t slowed down the epic Angry Inch saga. If keeping the moratorium helps that show keep rolling, then I’m all for it staying.

  • what purpose does the moratorium serve? Adams Morgan is wall to wall bars or restaurants that serve alcohol – what difference will it make if there are a few more businesses along the strip that have that ability?

    IMHO, Duplex Diner is the friendliest of all the drink mills in Adams Morgan….

  • This is a moot point, Look at all the empty restaurants and clubs and the many available licenses in Adams Morgan. The over-concentration of bars and the resulting low-brow chaotic nightlife burned itself out. The streetscape exasperated the decline as other neighborhoods developed more appealing nightlife scenes (U street, 14th Street and H Street NE).

  • AM Observer “Low Brow Chaotic Nightlife”…I couldn’t have said it better.

    If someone can put forth an actual, legitimate reason (backed by local data of course) why AM should lift it, then lets see it. Everytime I ask the question, I get a host of young 20 something knee jerk “’cause more bars are better!” response.

    Anyone who pays attention to the news on the weekend, or happens to be in AM Friday/Saturday/Sunday knows it is nothing more than a “hot mess”. that overflows onto the residential areas around it. Trash, vomit, vandalism is rampant in that neighborhood and got worse through the 90’s as more and more liquor licenses were granted.

    Fun fact, there are more MPD assigned to AM per sq/block Friday and Saturday night than any other regular detail in the city. There are 3 or 4 cruisers, half a dozen bike cops and another handful walking the 3 block stretch and it is STILL an embarrasing mess, and you want to let them add more?

    To add insult to injury AM is practically a ghost town any other time of the week. The wall to wall college bars leaves practically no real options for dining or retail.

    • Well I WOULD love to have a beer to complement my falafel.

    • On point as usual, Joker. There is no good reason to lift the moratorium. Non-residents who want more bars in Adams Morgan can avoid the unpleasant externalities, making their opinions rather irrelevant. The neighborhood needs more retail and good restaurants – a better balance. Not more bars.

      • So… people who moved into areas with high crime arent allowed to complain about the crime,but people who moved into an area with a bunch of bars are allowed to complain about the drunks?

        • I just realized that I might have misunderstood your comment as well. I agree with Joker because I don’t see the need to aggravate Adams Morgan’s problems (if that’s possible). As for your desire to not interfere in the housing market, I generally agree.

      • The problem is that the moratorium applies to restaurants as well and it’s very difficult for a new restaurant to make money without being able to serve alcohol.

    • So, just to clarify, tampering with the housing market is unreasonable but tampering with the beer market is not?

      I think that after all reasonable safety and health issues are accounted for, people should be able to do WHATEVER it is they want to do with their own property.

    • You answered your own question – AdMo has mecome the DC version of a wholesale liquor operation. It costs a ton of money to get the liquor license and open anything up. The only way to make that money back is to herd the sheep into the bar, feed them cheap liquor and keep the cycle going. If you removed the moratorium then the market would deflate, allowing more bars that can break even with lower margins. I don’t need to show you an economics thesis on Adams Morgan to prove that overregulated markets create artificial price floors. You set the bar too high.

      Oh, and I believe that most of the MPD assigned to Adams Morgan are off-duty hired to manage the shitshow. But I might be wrong. And regardless, if that is where they are needed and people are paying (bars+taxes) for the privelege then make it a safe environment.

      And on a closing note, I friggin hate Adams Morgan. It is a horrible, trashy, scummy place on the nights I want to go out there. But I definitely support lifting the moratorium as I firmly believe it will achieve what we want it to. Adams Morgan didn’t always look like this – it became this after the moratorium.

    • It really isn’t that bad these days. I’d say the U St. area is more of a s-show on Friday and Saturday nights than AM now. And the mess you describe, I’ve hardly seen it, although I concede I generally am only between 18th and 15th streets. I don’t know what it looks like from 18th westerward to the Metro on Friday and Saturday nights.

      And while AM is pretty quiet on weekdays, there is a good amount of foot traffic on weekends (during daylight hours). But that could describe a lot of parts of DC…

      • agreed. U Street is awful and I don’t know why so many people are reluctant to acknowledge this. I liked hanging out there 5 years ago, but now it’s a mess and you take your life into your own hands crossing the street anywhere from 14th to 8th.

      • Yes, U Street is the new Adams Morgan so as big of a proponent of free markets as I am, I think things have worked out quite well for AM.

    • “The wall to wall college bars leaves practically no real options for dining or retail.”

      You mean there is no room for good restaurants like Mintwood Place, Grill from Ipanema, Southern Hospitality, Perry’s, Cashions, Jack Rose, Taan Noodles, Smoke & Barrel.

      Yep, no options for good dinning at all.

      • Or Sakuramen or Amsterdam falafel. Hell, even Mellow Mushroom. Man Adams Morgan is such a food wasteland.

        Sorry Joker, but the Adams Morgan you’re describing sounds a bit dated (although yes, it still does not have much retail).

      • meh, actually the only good place you mentioned is jack rose. the others are has-beens or are incredibly overrated (mintwood, I’m looking at you. only reason you still exist is b/c the post food guy is your bff.)

        • Prince Of Petworth

          Mintwood Place is fantastic.

          • man, I’m just continually surprised that I managed to have 2 of the worst and overpriced meals of my life there but everyone else seems to love it. can’t bring myself to try again, though.

          • saf

            My experience did not match yours. Our food and drinks were fine but not amazing. The pie was stellar. And for the price, it was not worth it.

        • +1, although I haven’t gotten the chance to try Taan or Jack Rose yet. The rest are okay but certainly nothing special.

          • Wow, so you name 8 places in the entire area, 4 or 5 of which are pretty mediocre and don’t count any higher on anyones list than a McDonalds.

            You might as well have counted the 4 or 5 jumbo slice pizza places in a 3 block area too.

            Even if the 8 places were legit average quality places, you are still confronted with 85 addition bars in the same zone.

            Anyone who has lived here longer than the recession or has actually lived in AM (me), knows it is a complete and utter s-show.

            And U street, with their 107 bars in a 1800′ radius (an area where you start in the center and walk any direction for 2 and a half minutes and you’ve reached the boundary) is at the threshold of being just as bad.

            I know its awesome for the “IMBY’s, (the new self appointed head IMBY of the District who doesn’t even live in U Street and doesn’t have to deal with the mess), but it isn’t awesome for anyone else.

          • Joker, have you drank the kool aid or what? I live smack in the middle of the so-called Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance’s ground zero and the “107 liquor licenses” number that they’re throwing around on their ridiculous moratorium proposal is hogwash. Have you actually looked at who they include on the list 107? Source Theatre? Lincoln Theatre? Cork Market? Yes! Market? U Street Wine & Beer? The Whitelaw Market? Hell, I have beer in my refrigerator, so why don’t they include my house too?

          • Joker, you seem to be conflating a decent dining experience with your personal tastes. I didn’t say Cashions or Smoke & Barrel are Michelin rated. But they serve food that is far superior to McDonalds. Your hyperbole doesn’t prove your point, it just turns people off to your tough-guy internet schtick. Claiming that current state of liquor licenses has prevent any acceptable dining from thriving in AM is blatantly wrong. It’s improved by leaps and bounds in the past 4 years.

            Your NIMBYism is hardly more productive than anyone else’s IMBYism.

          • “……..1800′ radius (an area where you start in the center and walk any direction for 2 and a half minutes and you’ve reached the boundary)”

            The 400 meter world record is 45 secs or so. If you can cover 600 meters in 150 secs, drunk, eating a jumbo slice, dodging pedestrians and traffic then you should give the USOC a call.

    • The moratorium should be lifted so that the vacant properties can have an opportunity to be rented by boutique restaurants with good food, who want to offer a drink to accompany it. The old bars aren’t leaving, so no one new can come in to add a great culinary concept… unless they can get a liquor license. Which they can’t, with a moratorium. Retail can’t afford the rents. So the properties sit vacant.

  • To many bars in DC, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for the influx of business, but we need coffee shops and arcades, clothing stores, book stores and stuff to do that doesn’t involve alcohol. I’m all for lifting the moratorium, but Adams Morgan turns over businesses regularly because it’s so geared towards nightlife. Now that they’ve pretty much killed all the parking along 18th street, it needs to be an all-around destination with more variety of things to do more than just bar hopping.

  • If I lived there I’d want to keep the moratorium. But I don’t, so I don’t care.

  • It’s all about balance – something Adams Morgan clearly lacks. The market regularly speaks in the form of bar/restaurant closings, so it seems to me that the moratorium is no longer needed. What’s needed is some kind of incentive to add retail that makes the neighborhood vibrant beyond the weekend rush. Successful bars are profitable enough in Adams Morgan that they can push out this balancing retail, but they would be even more successful if they had other non-bar neighbors to make the area more attractive as a neighborhood.

    The same problem exists on U St and H St – DC needs to find a way to tamp down over-concentration of bars/restaurants and maintain retail variety without dampening competition. There are no easy solutions, it seems.

  • Lift the moratorium. By keeping the moratorium, you artificially inflate the value of the liquor licenses. Which, when a piece of property turns over to a new owner or lessee, disincentivizes the entrepreneur from installing another type of business in that space. He’s paying a premium for that space because of the liquor license attached to it, so he needs to make a profit as quickly as possible. Hence the lack of retail diversity in AdMo.

    • Zero-Sum,

      It is when folks like yourself say things like “Hence the lack of retail diversity in AdMo.”, it just proves to everyone that you just got here and have no idea what you are talking about.

      The AM moratorium is what…13 years old?. I don’t remember any more “retail diversity” in AM before then, than there is now.

      AM was a mess before, and it is less of a mess now than it would have been had the college kids had their way and no moratorium been passed.

      • 13 years ago I was not in DC.

        However, let’s go back 15 years, prior to the moratorium. What was the state of Adams Morgan back then? Were there $1 million condos one block away? How about $3 million townhouses? What was the economic picture of the area?

        My point is that you’re comparing apples and oranges. I’d wager that Adams Morgan pre-moratorium didn’t have the pent up consumer demand that the Adams Morgan of today currently has. A lot of upper-income individuals have moved into AdMo in the last 15 years that could now support thriving, more diverse retail options.

        The license moratorium just serves to push up commercial space prices even higher in an area that is already really expensive. Letting the ban lapse would help bring down the commercial real estate prices and allow more flexibility for mixed-retail use by lowering entrepreneur’s break even point.

        Your end game is to reduce the amount of bars in the area. You do that by getting rid of the moratorium, which allows the monopoly that currently exists to lapse and introducing more competition. In the end, you’ll probably see some of the divey bars close, more upscale drinking establishments open up, and more street level retail open up in Adams Morgan. That’s a better way of reducing the problems in AdMo.

  • so many theorists!

  • People do realize that the moratorium also affects sit-down restaurants that don’t cater to the frenzied booze mobs on weekend nights? The moratorium only makes things more expensive for everybody and doesn’t solve the problem. The problem isn’t placing serving booze–it’s that the authorities continue to allow chaos on 18th street and the establishments that cater to the weekend get wasted crowd to operate without any restraints. If the city really wanted to get it under control, it would, but I suspect the campaign donations that go to Jim Graham help keep the status quo.

  • As a few have pointed out, Adams Morgan has some great new restaurants and seems to be getting a new one every couple months. Granted, it’s a sh_t show weekends after midnight, I’ve noticed a marked improvement during those hours over the past couple years while U St has trended in the opposite direction. Joker’s view is outdated.

    As for the moratorium, I think it’s a pretty blunt and mostly ineffective tool to achieve the neighborhood’s objectives. But I’m mostly agnostic, since I don’t think it has a huge impact either way.

  • Adams Morgan is a really nice neighborhood, but is a bit chaotic from 10pm-3am Thurs – Sat nights. I’m ok with that balance. I don’t understand why half the posts on here are so insulting and anger filled toward an entire neighborhood (or a particular restaurant). Every place has its highs and lows.

    On the point of the post, I’m not sure whether the moratorium helps or hurts in affecting the changes most people would like to see around here. I’m for anything that helps fill in the 10-15 empty store fronts we currently have, and it would be nice to have some establishments with higher standards of operation.

    • +10 Lots of interesting information is shared on POPville, but it is outweighed by the smarter than you, blowhard, absolutist douchebags who blowup a post inside of three comments.

    • Absolutely agree. The craziness everyone alludes to happens mainly on 18th St between Kalorama Rd and Columbia Rd – there is a lot more to Adams Morgan than that. I’ve lived in Adams Morgan for almost 20 years and seen a lot of changes during that time – mostly for the better. Regardless, I loved the neighborhood when I moved in and I still love it now.

  • This is worth repeating so the real facts are out there. “Joker” claims that there are “107 bars” in the broader U Street area where the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance is trying to impose a liquor license moratorium. He’s getting this number from the SDCA’s petition. But this is complete hogwash. The SDCA is including among the 107 every single establishment in the proposed zone that has any kind of liquor license — not just bars. Thus, they’re including, among others, the Source Theatre, the Lincoln Theatre, Cork Market, Yes! Market, Busboy’s, U Street Wine & Beer, the The Whitelaw Market, etc. At this rate, they might as well include my house because it has beer in the fridge.

    The answer to “problem” bars and night clubs in our neighborhood is to close down the offenders. Period. The answer isn’t to not let anyone new into the neighborhood. We’re about to be inundated with thousands of new residents as several large apartment and condo buildings open up on the 14th Street and U Street. Where does the SDCA expect them to go?

  • They should lift the ban but only after the luxury hotel and other condo projects have been finished.

  • Amo should turn into a full strip of live music bars (nashville style), mixed with new restaurants, a couple retail shops, draft cinema house, and somehow figure out where to put a bowling ally. It needs to keep the funky drinking neighborhood vibe, obviously it could go a for a face lift on a few spots, but that really needs to fall on the owners to take a bit more pride in their business. Amo has distinct character, which is something I cant say for the a lot of other neighborhoods in the city.

    Ive lived in the area for a few years, and fully support the lift on the moratorium. Bring in more bars,restaurants, & liquor licences, and with that more competition and push for better concepts. With the new hotel coming in, I think we will see a slight shift in some of the businesses, but I personally think the city should focus on pushing for more small office space, especially DC tech startups, to move into the area. Perhaps even subsidize some of the space for DC based startups, we all know Grey loves to do that. This would help the businesses during the weekdays, and would also help push the owners to step up there game with the new influx of daytime customers.

    • Thing is, the neighborhood is already changing for the better on its own, albeit slowly. It’s not changing nearly as fast as other neighborhoods, but the upside is that it’s keeping more of its character that way.

  • I think the last time a lot of these commentors were in Adams Morgan was about 3 a.m. when they were 23 years old back when all these stereotypes were created.

    There’s a thriving brunch scene, many restaurants with offerings from around the world, a number of upscale alcohol and specialty beer establishments, a bookstore, a number of antique stores, coffeeshops, easy access to the National Zoo, thriving parks, and residential areas that are largely older and sedate people.

    • Agreed.

      I love going to Adams Morgan on a nice Sunday afternoon or grabbing some chill drinks with friends on Mon-Wed evening. It’s a great area with a ton of food options within 6 blocks.

      I’m saving to buy a place and Adams Morgan is my preferred area. I’m hoping to get in before I get priced out! *fingers crossed*

      • Of course, I don’t know what your budget is, but the time to get into Adams Morgan was pre-PN Hoffman development – early 2000’s. VERY happy I bought there in 1996.

  • How come New York’s nightlife isn’t concentrated in massive strips like DC’s? Does our zoning force everything to specific areas while in New York you can open a bar on side residential streets?

    • yes, zoning. outside of downtown, we are zoned as if we are a series of small towns hoping to create mainstreets.

  • I’m not sure whether lifting the moratorium would be a good thing or a bad one — whatever would reduce the Friday- and Saturday-night craziness would be good, but it’s not clear to me that lifting the moratorium would necessarily do so.

    It is, however, clear to me that people need to stop calling Adams Morgan “AdMo.” No mo’!!

  • No, it should not be lifted.

    What should occur instead is:
    Liquor licenses should be more easily revoked.
    If the license is not in use then it should be suspended. After a period of time where it is not in use, it should be removed from the holder.
    As liquor licenses are done by type of establishment/occupancy these should be strictly enforced – and immense fines for violation including permanent revocation of license.
    The number of licenses allowed in a given area should be determined by class. So a moratorium on club/tavern licenses would not effect a restaurant or hotel license and vice versa.

  • I have no idea how this moratorium process works and no informed opinion on whether it will “work” – whatever that means for those who support it. But I do know that people have been trying to bring retail to Adams Morgan forever. (It was the plan the 6 years I lived in Adams Morgan, which began 13 years ago, and it probably predates that point in time.) Maybe it’s time to admit that it’s just not going to happen – moritorium or not.

    • I think its unique isolation in the middle of everything – and not being a daytime destination – is what keeps it from developing in the way 14th Street has, for example, with interior design.

      I agree with the general notion that bringing in hotels and fostering more start-up businesses would help draw a daytime population to the area. Though, I think the reality is that, with Georgetown and Dupont not far on one side and Columbia Heights on the other, I’m just not sure there’s space for another shopping district.

  • The other issue the moratorium creates is SLOW turnover of properties. As someone else mentioned, holding that very valuable liquor license provides incentives for the landlord to sit on the real estate and then lease at extraordinary high rents based on demand for the liquor license alone.

    This has caused at least a few buildings in Admo to be empty right now. The old Euro club Slaviya is empty, the building with the Toulouse-Lautrec reproduction on the front, and a couple of others are still empty because the real estate owners are trying to extract greater rent out of businesses to access the liquor license attached to the property.

    If the moratorium were lifted there would be less incentive to hold places empty waiting for the highest bidder to access the liquor license. Places would fill in quicker, perhaps better restaurants and better bars would open, creating stiffer competition, and pushing all business to improve in order to compete.

    And kudos to everyone who points out that Admo is not the barren drunken wasteland that everyone assumes it to be. It is one of the easiest neighborhoods to live in with access to good nightlife, several excellent grocery stores, and easy enough transportation (although in the winter that walk across the calvert bridge is miserable). Business owners have recognized that the neighborhood has improved and the last two years have seen exceptional growth. If we can reduce the cost of starting up a business by getting rid of the moratorium, then perhaps the neighborhood can keep the momentum going and grab a share of the expanding DC economy.

    • Andrew –

      Please cite your source(s) for this statement:

      “Business owners have recognized that the neighborhood has improved and the last two years have seen exceptional growth.”

      I own a business here. Many of my neighboring businesses have closed and many more are on the brink of eviction or bankruptcy. Throughout the streetscape and since, almost every business I know is struggling to make ends meet. What do you know that we don’t?

  • Aren’t there enough bars in Adams Morgan as it is? It’s not like every single bar on 18th Street is overpacked with a line down the block on a Saturday night. Plenty of places down there look like they’re struggling, anyway. My theory is that they’ve lost a ton of business to H Street Northeast and to a lesser extent, U Street.

  • Why is there no middle ground between an absolute moratorium and a free for all, by-right process? Let’s let businesses have access to liquor licenses once they go through the review process, including resident input, etc.

  • it should expire tomorrow….Al

Comments are closed.