Staff editorial: Save D.C. nightlife

D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans recently proposed legislation that would ban businesses zoned as restaurants from turning into clubs at night – an oversimplified response to a complex problem.

Evans’ plan prevents clubs from charging cover fees or installing dance floors larger than 100 square feet, keeping establishments like Paper Moon in Georgetown from disguising a club as a restaurant.

D.C. civic associations complain that they did not plan on the nightlife associated with the restaurant-nightclubs. When the businesses moved into areas like Adams Morgan and Georgetown, local residents assumed they were restaurants, as they were licensed, but are now realizing that the many of the eateries turn into nightclubs in the later hours. Residents say they are growing too loud and disorderly. The legislation; however, is not an attack on the problem, but simply on D.C. nightlife itself.

Evans’ proposal to ban cover charges and limit the size of dance floors extends to prohibiting live music at these “restaurants.” The legislation will limit most D.C. establishments from operating as usual, severely limiting students’ weekend and evening options. It will also hurt the local economy, which is heavily supported by the expendable income of students and young professionals.

According to the Washington Post, the dispute is based on resident concerns that entrepreneurs are misleading communities by applying for restaurant licenses, which are easier to obtain and attract less neighborhood opposition and zoning obstacles than licenses for nightclubs. Zoning concerns are not reason to effectively put many restaurants out of business and permanently damage D.C.’s nightlife, which has dramatically contributed to the economic and social revitalization of the city, especially in the Northwest.

It should be clear that D.C. nightlife is evolving through this restaurant-nightclub model, but entrepreneurs must choose between the two when attaining a license. Under current restrictions, businesses classified as restaurants must make at least 45 percent of their gross revenue through food sales, but restaurants that happen to also have a successful night scene do not follow this rule and will be punished for it if the legislation passes.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Board has established a committee of restaurateurs and citizens to review the city’s laws and develop proposals that can satisfy both sides. Current laws were initiated in a different time and are not suitable to the current atmosphere. Businesses should be able to operate as both nightclubs and restaurants without fear of fines for zoning violations. A new designation should be made that allows for these restaurant-nightclub hybrids and is flexible to the D.C. culture. The same place should be allowed to offer quiet dining during the day and live music and dancing in the evening

These restaurant-nightclubs; however, should take residents’ concerns seriously. It might take into consideration little things like closing doors or picking up curbside trash after closing. A little effort by nightspots can go a long way in appeasing residents and allowing lawmakers to concentrate on creative solutions instead of wasting time trying to quiet a metropolitan city.

Some of the best D.C. weekend and evening hot spots, such as Madam’s Organ in Adams Morgan or Bravo Bravo in Dupont Circle, are the targets of this legislation. No legislation should put them out of business. The City Council should disregard Evans’ proposal and work to change the zoning laws so D.C.’s expanding culture, encouraged by the many bars offering live music, is not destroyed before it fully develops.

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