District officials are tending to the problem of underage drinking by investigating local bars and restaurants that potentially could serve alcohol to minors.
The Metropolitan Police Department and Alcohol Beverage Control are using undercover, underage students from local universities, including GW, to ensure ABC establishments refrain from serving minors, said Jacqueline Wallace, communications manager for Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
The initiative began after the Department of Justice provided the program with $72,000 in federal grants earlier in the summer, Wallace said.
When the operation began, MPD and ABC escorted students to about 12 restaurants or bars a night, and usually more than half were selling to minors, Wallace said. She said the number of citations has decreased significantly since the start of the summer, which she said indicates the program is working.
Bar and restaurant owners said they are concerned they will be the next target for MPD and ABC.
Lindy Adams, owner of Lindy’s Red Lion at 2040 I St., said she worries her bar will be frequented by police now that school has started. She said MPD and ABC targeted upscale restaurants before but will change when students return from summer vacation.
“They kill us,” Adams said. “I’m open to huge fines.”
Wallace said ABC never sought a certain type of restaurant but merely visited one location at a time.
Adams said students are risking the credibility of fellow students who tend bar when they try to get served despite being under age.
“Wait your turn, and we’ll serve you when you’re 21,” she said.
Lulu’s Club, at 1217 22nd St., used to offer college nights for anyone 18 or older but the bar became an exclusively 21 and over establishment after a slew of arrests for serving minors occurred last fall, said Head of Security and Floor Manager George Martinez.
“We’re not about to lose a $250 liquor license for some underage drinker who’s looking to have some fun,” Martinez said.
He said MPD or ABC come almost every weekend to check the identification of some of the patrons. Lulu’s has not gotten into any more trouble, he said.
But Martinez said the bar has changed since last year. College Night, which used to be every Thursday, would bring in about 2,400 people, and now Lulu’s sees about 500 patrons on Thursday nights. The weekend makes up for any lost income, Martinez said. Since the bar became a 21 or older establishment, a higher volume of adults frequent it on the weekend, he said.
Tequilla Grill, at 1990 K St., has not significantly changed its policies in response to the recent investigations, bartender Danny Iriarte said.
He said employees card everyone as usual and 18 and older parties still exist at Tequilla Grill.
Iriarte said the police are “out and about more,” and, as a result, employers have encouraged waiters to be stricter, but no other policy changes have occurred.
Liz Cannizzo, a GW sophomore who tends bar in Massachusetts, said she would love to tend bar in D.C. In Massachusetts, bartenders need to be at least 18 years old, but bartenders must be at least 21 to work in the District. She said the latest restrictions are commonplace.
Cannizzo said she was trained to notice fake identification, and she said bartenders must protect themselves.
“It’s rough because you don’t want to seem like an idiot checking every ID,” Cannizzo said. “But the consequences are so great, you just have to do it.”