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D.C. Bars and Nightclubs to Be Open 24-hours A Day for Inauguration Week

The D.C. Council approved emergency legislation this evening that will allow District bars, nightclubs and restaurants to serve alcohol until 5 a.m. -- three hours later than usual -- and remain open for food around the clock from Jan. 17 until the morning after Obama's swearing-in Jan. 20.

The bill was the brainchild of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and was introduced by council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents nightlife-heavy neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant.

The council approved the bill 9 to 4. Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) was the only one who objected to the extra hours. But Graham, Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Muriel Bowser also voted against the bill, which originally excluded nightclubs at Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's request, after it was amended to include them.

With as many as three million people expected to come to Washington for the inaugural, the city must be meet their entertainment demands, Graham had said upon introducing the measure.

"I know a lot of people are excited about the inauguration and I share that excitement," Mendelson said. "But there are very few people I know of out partying at 5 in the morning or 4 in the morning who aren't getting drunk. I think there are going to be consequences to that.from a public safety and public order point of view. It's not a good policy to be supporting."

On a normal week, bars and nightclubs can serve alcohol until 2 a.m. on weekdays and until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The only day the city regularly extends normal drinking hours is Jan. 1, when bars are allowed to keep serving alcohol until 4 a.m.

But the legislation quickly drew the ire of civic leaders, who complained that the council did not seek public input. The new rules could create more noise and problems for residents, said activists who have fought for tougher restrictions on bars and restaurant.

"I see the potential for why you'd want to do it, in terms of this being a historic election, but to just throw this down on neighborhoods?" said Bryan Weaver, head of the Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commissions. "To have 3 1/2 days of 24-hour service without any input from the community -- there's going to be hell to pay from a lot of neighborhood associations."

But Andrew Kline, general counsel for the restaurant association, said Obama's inauguration is a once-in-a-lifetime event that is worthy of special rules. He noted that spontaneous celebrations broke out on city streets until the early morning hours after Obama won the general election Nov. 4.

Kline said it was important for the council to pass the legislation quickly because bars and restaurants are in the process of booking private parties for inauguration week.

"It makes sense to have places for people to go when they're in a celebratory mood," Kline said. "It's just a few days. All of us are going to be somewhat inconvenienced, but that's outweighed by a wonderful historic event."

The move is not without precedent in other cities. During the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last summer, eight bars and restaurants were allowed to remain open two additional hours until 4 a.m.

Whether the D.C. law will require other agencies to alter their plans remains uncertain. Metro announced it would have extended service hours on inauguration day, from 4 a.m. Jan 20 through 2 a.m. Jan 21. Otherwise, the transit authority will run normal service, closing at midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

"We're also working on extension of Metro hours," Graham said.

By David A Nakamura  |  December 2, 2008; 6:59 PM ET
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