Left Door Cocktail Bar: “We do not want to be held hostage by a vocal minority with unreasonable demands”

1345 S Street, NW

From Jared Jablonka, one of the partners of Left Door:

“We’ve been proactive about engaging with the ANC and the community to ensure they are involved in our planning/process from the beginning. After working with the ANC for the past 3-4+ months, we successfully negotiated a Settlement Agreement that is fair to all parties. The ANC was scheduled to vote to approve the SA at Thursday’s meeting, when we were blindsided by some last-minute, unreasonable demands from SDCA (Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance // http://shawdupont.org).

Their demands include restrictions that we believe would most likely put us in direct violation of DC Health Code (i.e. not allowed to remove trash from the premises during normal business hours, etc.). This would put us at a competitive disadvantage and would create an unsanitary and undesirable atmosphere (imagine drinking hand-crafted cocktails while surrounded by piles of trash…). The space is very small (@ 900 SF) so there is no interior trash storage space, a fact that SDCA is well aware of.

We engaged with SDCA a few months ago and received their support for all of the same terms and conditions that the ANC agreed to, but then they went back on their word and added more onerous restrictions at the last minute. We learned about their demands literally 15 minutes before the ANC vote on Thursday.

While we respect everyone’s right to their own opinion, we believe this group is intentionally hijacking the established ANC-ABRA process. They attempt to extract demands that are not financially viable nor legitimate concerns of actual neighbors.

This group comprises a VERY small number of people in the neighborhood and their viewpoints are extremely divergent from the overwhelming majority of neighboring residents. They have demonstrated a pattern of taking unreasonably hostile positions against legitimate business owners in the Shaw-Logan Circle area. Among other things, they tried to impose a liquor license moratorium along 14th Street and U Street in 2013-2014 (a notion which was rejected by roughly 98% of local residents), and they routinely file unwarranted liquor license protests that end up costing small local business owners tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal expenses.

We would like to move forward and sign the SA that we negotiated with the ANC. We do not want to be held hostage by a vocal minority with unreasonable demands. Based on conversations with other business owners in the neighborhood, this seems to be a recurring pattern with this group. We believe SDCA is not negotiating in good faith and is unnecessarily wasting time, money and resources that could be better spent on more worthy pursuits. We would like to start a dialogue with other community members regarding the legitimacy and legal standing of SDCA as it relates to the ABRA liquor license process.

We welcome input from all sides. Thanks.”

45 Comment

  • I hadn’t realized these folks were still around after getting slapped down so hard on the moratorium issue. It boggles my mind that DC empowers tiny groups of people to hold up restaurants, development, etc. like this.

    • It boggles your mind as in you are thankful citizens have a say and $$$$ doesn’t just always rule? It boggles my mind that you are implying that development and restaurants should operate unchecked. I don’t know what the situation with this one particular group is and there are 2 sides to every story, but big government and money should not always be the winners.

      • west_egg

        “It boggles my mind that you are implying that development and restaurants should operate unchecked.”
        It boggles my mind that people concoct strawmen like this, but here we are. “Letting a restaurant take out the trash” =/= “operating unchecked.”

        • I’m just boggled that Tom Brown is now part of “big money”….

        • Looks like you forgot to read the rest of my comment: “I don’t know what the situation with this or particular group is and there are 2 sides to every story…”. Definitely skeptical of this over simplified woe is me complaint by the restaurant owner. JS’ comment was to “tiny groups of people”, generally. As such, my comment was generally in response to that comment.

          • I might be skeptical, except for SDCA’s history. Based on my knowledge of that, I am more skeptical of SDCA. They have destroyed their credibility.

      • Hey, I think you missed the part where the elected representatives (the ANC) negotiated an agreement with the bar that a notorious group of wealthy neighborhood NIMBYs are trying to blow up. But yeah, sure, $$$$ uber alles.

        • You clearly don’t know how this works. If the ANC negotiated a deal and agreed, then sign the paper. The neighborhood association (or any civic association) can protest on their own to ABRA regardless of the ANC decision. Due process.

          • Yes, EXCEPT, this particular citizens group seems to have been formed for the sole purpose of protesting liquor licenses. And in my opinion, they don’t really represent a community so much as a very small group of people who do not negotiate in good faith.

          • Yeah, if you want to defend SDCA, be my guest. You clearly don’t know anything of their history.

  • As someone actively fundraising for a brewery that I’d love to locate in the District, this disheartens me and (sadly) makes Virginia look so attractive by comparison.

    • Just don’t try to open it in Logan Circle. Quite a few breweries have been able to open in DC over the past few years and the Council has been changing laws to further accommodate them.

      • Sadly, a casual bar/brewery is what this area needs – maybe with more than 1 TV. Stoney’s and Drafting Table are the closest things to a ‘sports bar’ this area has and neither have more than a couple TVs.

        • ^Agree with John. For too many new places purport to be “neighborhood” or “corner” bars, but then specialize in $12 drinks and $15+ plates (i.e. Pub and the People, All Souls), or they’re good bars with some cheap offerings that are too cool to have 1-2 TVs up in the corner with a game on (i.e. Showtime, Slash Rub, Lyman’s Tavern … Pub and the People and All Souls also lack a TV), like a real neighborhood bar should have. I’m not looking for a sports bar, just a regular bar with a game on. (Boundary Stone manages to have a couple of TVs with games on without being in-your-face about it.)

  • This is just barmy given the location of the bar. It’s not as if they’re trying to open the first bar in a quiet, entirely residential neighborhood. So how does trash removal during the day cause issues when right next door is a loud, outdoor bar? Ludicrous.

    • The OP didn’t say anything about during the day – i’m curious what the actual restrictions are. Normal business hours for a bar are long, and while I don’t know if this is what is happening, I wouldn’t blame neighbors for not wanting the bar to dump lots of bottles (which are really loud) out late at night or early in the morning. I used to live near a restaurant that did this and it was super disruptive. I’m dubious.

  • What a shame. Generally I think it’s good that legitimate neighborhood groups are given a chance to weigh in on issues like liquor licenses, but it sounds as though SDCA’s legitimacy is questionable.

  • The SDCA is the absurd but predictable result of ABRA/ANC rules intended to allow (legitimate) neighborhood associations to participate in the licensing process. There are two ways to fix this problem:
    (1) amend the ABRA/ANC regs so that such groups don’t get preferential status (a bad idea, I think), OR (2) everyone who is eligible should join the organization and oust the existing leadership. It’s no secret that the SDCA is run by a few NIMBYs on Wallach Street. If you want the SDCA to actually reflect the 14th St/U St area…join the organization. It costs $15/yr and is open to residents who live between “12th St. to 15th St., and S St. to U St.” (according to their website and application form). The ANC/ABRA process requires that membership be open to all affected residents.
    So join this group. Attend their meeting(s). Vote against these proposals before they get off the ground. Vote the insane leadership out of the organization.

    • Umm or you can make your own civic association that would have a say. If you’ve ever been through an ABRA process you’d know that ABRA is a joke and rarely listens to citizens regardless of what form they present themselves in.

      • The idea would be to prevent SDCA from protesting every application. I’ve been through the ABRA process, thank you…it doesn’t matter if ABRA gives citizen groups like SDCA any weight, they are allowed to mount challenges that survive the ANC settlement process, which puts them in a position to delay the ABRA proceedings.

    • This group is responsible for a significant portion of the backlog in DCRA’s complaint tracking and investigation work. If you wonder why it takes a long time to get responses and results on legit issues, permits, etc., it’s because of the excessive complaints being logged by this group.

    • Because they won’t find a way to exclude you at their whim? Look, I’ve tried. I went to meetings and watched as known, vocal NIMBYs railed on for for 20-30 minutes and “questions are now closed” while I had my hand up to speak. I’ve joined local list-servs only to be blocked from posting *anything* (even as innocent as “hey, I just Amazoned my place to the Nth degree…does anyone need boxes?”) because I once stood up to a neighborhood bully who insisted everyone in the neighborhood was in favor of something (and, in that case, all I said was “I don’t agree with you, for reasons X, Y, and Z. Thank you for posting your opinion, but I disagree”).

      On the flip side, you can submit statements to the zoning commission and ABRA as a private citizen who lives nearby. I’ve done a lot of that, with good results. Giving my best efforts to counteract the NIMBYs, I post everything I submit to the list-servs for my condo buildings, and ask like-minded neighbors to submit the same. It’s worked pretty well. 🙂

    • Hilariously (depressingly) SDCA’s bylaws expressly allow their board to override decisions of the membership as a whole, if the board finds the decision to be contrary to the purpose of the organization. There isn’t even a veneer of democracy.

      Now, that’s not to say that an enterprising group of a couple dozen people with a good grasp of Roberts Rules couldn’t pull it off, but SDCA has carefully tried to insulate themselves from having to actually represent a broader community.

  • I Dont Get It

    Ugh they are so annoying.

  • “imagine drinking hand-crafted cocktails while surrounded by piles of trash…”

    My thoughts everytime I get a hand crafted cocktail in DC.

    • I never understood the term “hand-crafted” cocktails. Only trendy places seem to use that term to attract people. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a cocktail not being made by hand.

    • This sounds like something Stefan on SNL would explain as a bar’s scene: ““DC’s Hottest Bar is TRAAAAAAASH: imagine drinking hand-crafted cocktails while surrounded by piles of trash…”

  • northeazy

    On the flip side, how much trash could “hand-crafted cocktails” actually produce? Just keep the trash inside until closing hours. Also, call the Dept of Sanitation on yourselves, get a city order demanding you to take your trash out during business hours, and end run around this citizen group’s unreasonable demands.

  • I don’t believe they are an official ANC. They formed the boundaries based on inclusion of the streets that their members live on and purposely excluded streets and zones where opponents of their viewpoints reside. They don’t carry the same weight as an ANC and should not be treated as any authorized or official group. What they succeed in is causing delays and a lot of unnecessary district tax dollars to be spent researching rules, etc. that they have no valid complaints on.

    • The way the ABRA process works is your ANC can challenge an application or reach a settlement with the applicant. Once the ANC settles, most other challenges by residents are wiped out…unless you are a citizens association (like SDCA). Then you get to go to ABRA and challenge the applicant and create delays that can drag on for years. This group takes advantage of the process to force new bars and restaurants to accept whatever concessions they demand or get trapped in ABRA limbo.

  • Jared, very sorry to hear of the last minute demands of the SDCA.

    Do you have POCs with the ANC and ABRA where neighbors can send letters of support for Left Door, similar to how the community worked together to defeat the Liquor License Moratorium back in ’13?

  • This is a perfect example why ABRA needs to abolish citizen protests and ANCs. These groups are not effective in getting rid of bad neighbors (see TNT club on upper Georgia) but prevent reasonable establishments from opening.
    Shame on these NIMBYs actively trying to destroy our resurgent urban community.
    The new movie theater in Mount Pleasant now has an official protest hearing too.

    • Those nimbys made your resurgent urban community a possibility. Businesses aren’t the first, or even second wave of gentrification. They don’t move in until the residents make the neighborhood viable.

      So you want any consideration of residential concerns to be removed from the ABRA process to enhance the standing of the businesses who profit off of the investments that made that area profitable for them in the first place?

  • The problem is when civic groups and ANCs pass motions or hold positions contrary to the regulations and then insist that their opinion should trump regulations.

    • I think a more significant problem is when people suspend reality in order to accept whatever a business says as fact.

  • Is this the same group that held up Hank’s Oyster Bar from expanding for ages? I did attend and comment at the ANC meeting when their proposed moratorium on liquor licenses was discussed. I just gave up counting how many times their idiotic spokesperson used the word “sustainable” to attract support. I’d say it backfired, but I suspect the vast majority were opposed to the moratorium, and these meddlesome creeps, before their spokesperson made a fool of herself. About 120 citizens commented, and the moratorium was opposed 5 to 1. Yes, everyone has an opinion, but these jerks should not be allowed to hijack settlement agreements that have been made between residents and businesses.

  • I’m a non-drinker so I don’t feel I’d be a regular patron, but as a neighbor I do hope for the best with this bar. Seems like they’re being held back unreasonably, just like All Soul’s and Hank’s were.

  • “i.e. not allowed to remove trash from the premises during normal business hours, etc”

    This is a little vague and beyond doubt a distortion you feel you need to make to generate sympathy. Could it be the nearby neighbors (and I am not one) don’t want you dumping bottles in a dumpster in an alley at 1:00 or 2:00 am every night?

  • Hand-crafted cocktails — gag me. Especially next to a dry cleaners.

  • Go Tom! The development of bars & restaurants by brilliant folks like Tom Brown is a crucial part of DC becoming a true food city, like NOLA or NYC. We should all support the improvement of our city as well as the creation of jobs! Also, you live in a city: if “trash noise” bothers you, what do you do about all the sirens?

    • Sporadic sirens are nothing. If you kindly supply your address, I’ll demonstrate what it’s like to be woken up by the same noise every f’ing night. Seriously, the owners of this establishment should recognize that sleep is a legit neighborhood concern and work productively with the neighbors.

      • Since when is an establishment not working productively with the neighbors when they’ve met with the ANC, negotiated over the course of four months, and agreed on a Settlement Agreement?

        The question here isn’t resistance to working with the community, it is self-reverential little treehouse club SDCA throwing monkey wrenches into the process at the late hour.

        • I don’t know the exact nature of the sticking point – because the description above is vague. But if, in fact, a group of nearby neighbors want some assurance they won’t be routinely woken up late at night by bottles crashing into a dumpster . . . just give them that rather than giving them the finger online. There are several restaurants & bars in my immediate neighborhood that are great about this. After 11:00 pm or so, they hold their bottles indoors so as not to wake up the neighborhood, and they understand that’s the civilized way to operate.

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