TONIC: License to drink stalled

The owners of TONIC restaurant are moving ahead with attempts to obtain a liquor license for their eatery, but not without objections from some of the restaurant’s Foggy Bottom neighbors.

Located at the corner of 21st and G streets, TONIC is owned by GW graduates Jeremy Pollack and Greg Nicholas. The restaurant serves homestyle meals and is complete with a bar area in anticipation of eventually being able to serve alcohol, though no alcoholic drinks have been consumed in the restaurant since it opened for business in May.

“Of course there are some opponents, but we are not a nightclub or a bar,” Pollack said. “We are a neighborhood restaurant there to serve the community and the school.”

D.C. City Council rejected TONIC’s first application for a liquor license in February, stating that D.C. law does not allow eateries to serve alcohol in areas zoned for residential land use.

However, since this time TONIC has successfully pushed for a change to the law that previously kept it from obtaining a liquor license. The D.C. City Council passed the Residential Class Exemption Clarification Amendment Act of 2007 in mid June with a unanimous 13 to 0 vote.

The June act removed two words from a statute that said businesses can not obtain a liquor license in a residential area unless there are other licenses of the same type and class within 400 feet of the applicant. Cutting the words “type and” allows TONIC to be exempt from the prohibition of liquor licenses in residential neighborhoods, as it is in the same class, but not type, as Lisner Auditorium, which holds a class CX multipurpose license.

TONIC filed its papers to reapply for a liquor license on July 5, said Andrew Klein, TONIC’s attorney, and a 1978 alumnus. On Aug. 29, Klein Pollack and Nicholas met with the Foggy Bottom residents and the Advisory Neighborhood Committee that represents them to discuss the possibility of TONIC obtaining a liquor license. As TONIC’s owners expected, many residents said they were opposed to the idea.

Beverly Swanson, president of The Letterman House, said, “You are fighting a loosing battle,” as audience members cheered behind her.

Swanson added that she thought TONIC’s business plan was designed for a different community and that she is “sick of stepping out of my apartment building into someone’s throw up” from the night before.

Michael Kimmel, another Foggy Bottom resident, said he did not want TONIC to contribute to underage drinking in the neighborhood.

But Pollack and Nicholas said they would take measures to curb underage drinking at the restaurant. Pollack said scanners will check each potential bar patron to see if they are of age. This summer TONIC scaled back the time it closes the patio from 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends to 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends as a means to address some concerns of Foggy Bottom residents.

“We want to be good corporate neighbors with you,” Nicholas said at the meeting.

Residents are allowed to file a protest until Sept. 6. If protests are filed, then Pollack and Nicholas will meet with the Alcohol Beverage Control board on Sept. 19 to discuss the protests, Nicholas said. ABC mediators will then work with TONIC and Foggy Bottom ANC representatives to reach a solution. The ABC will make the final decision regarding whether TONIC is or is not permitted to have a liquor license.

“What usually happens,” Nicholas said, “is that the ANC and owners of venues come to a voluntary agreement about various issues such as hours of operations. Then the ABC gives the venue a liquor license. It is very likely that we are going to reach an agreement with the ANC.”

However, Pollack added that “he, Nicholas and the ANC representatives are in the early stages of the agreement.”

ANC Chairman L. Asher Carson, a recent graduate of GW, said he opposes the handing out of liquor licenses in residential areas.

“I have personal concerns about opening the flood gates and allowing liquor licenses in residential areas around the city,” he said. “I will not allow that in my ANC. Opening the gate to allow alcohol in residential areas is not what people in the community want.”

In a July interview with The Hatchet, Pollack said he does not see the ANC as a potential obstacle to obtaining a liquor license.

“The ANC is not a threat,” Pollack said. “They are representatives of the neighborhood and we at TONIC want to come up with a middle ground for them to be happy and for my business to prosper.”

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