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Posted at 2:02 PM ET, 05/14/2009

Breaking News: Two Adams Morgan Bars Have Liquor Licenses Revoked, More Could Follow (Updated)

By Fritz Hahn

Two Adams Morgan bars had their liquor licenses revoked for low food sales at yesterday's meeting of D.C. Alcohol Control Board, and more closures could be on the horizon for establishments in the neighborhood and across the city.

Bossa and Bobby Lew's Saloon have a stay of 10 days in which they can file a motion for reconsideration from the board. If the appeals are not successful, the liquor licenses will simply disappear -- they cannot be sold or transferred to new businesses.

The issue is that many bars and nightspots in Washington are operating under restaurant-class licenses, which require businesses to derive either 45 percent of their gross receipts or at least $2,000 per seat in food sales. (The other usual option is a tavern license, which doesn't require food sales. Those are usually limited, though, and some neighborhoods, including Adams Morgan, have a moratorium on issuing new tavern licenses to prevent a buildup of bars.) Restaurants operating as defacto bars and nightclubs has been a problem for a long time, but the ABC board has begun to take more action in the last year.

According to Adams Morgan ANC Commissioner Bryan Weaver, four other Adams Morgan establishments are also in jeopardy of losing their licenses: Adams Mill Bar and Grill, Chloe, Ventnor Sports Cafe and Grand Central. "There are 16 places in Adams Morgan that are in non-compliance," by not hitting the 45 percent sales mark, Weaver said today, but "These [six establishments] are making less than 25 percent. [The ABRA board has] drawn this line in the sand."

In interviews and in testimony before the board, representatives for both restaurants admitted that they are not currently complying with the law, but both claim there are mitigating circumstances.

At Bossa, a lounge with regular live music and art shows, the menu hasn't always been the focus. It has been selling food for the last eight years, though quarterly reviews found that, at some points, food amounted to just over 11 percent of gross sales. Owner Rob Coltun began trying to increase food income in 2007 after taking over from one of his business partners, according to testimony before the board. He hired restaurant consultants and reworked the business plan, and sales were at 18.8 percent for all of 2008, including 22 percent in the last quarter of the year. That total reached almost 30 percent in the first quarter of 2009. This growth curve, Coltun argued, meant that the business could eventually be compliant.

Bobby Lew's owner Martin Corboy is in a different situation. He points out that the previous occupant of his building, a bar and music venue called Staccato, did not have a kitchen at all, even though it was legally a restaurant. When Corboy and partner Bobby Lewis took over two years ago, they built a kitchen and began offering food. Corboy said they were hampered by other problems, including an agreement that the bar couldn't open before 6 p.m., which cut down on their ability to cater to weekend sports fans and happy hour kickball groups, and that the official occupancy of the business -- the number used to determine gross sales -- is 60 people, even though are only 22 seats in a 1,000-square foot building. Corboy eventually tried to correct both problems, getting the neighborhood to allow him to open earlier and trying to get his occupancy reduced, but the board decided it was too little, too late.

"We made a concerted effort to prove we could do it, but in this down economy, we're just not selling enough food," Corboy said today. "I could see it if we had countless fights or a litany of violations."

That's one of the interesting points of this decision: According to ANC Commissioner Weaver, these issues with low food sales are the first time either Bossa or Bobby Lew's has been in trouble with the law, and an establishment usually needs to have four violations before the ABC revokes its license. "There are other places that have had multiple violations for serving to minors, a stabbing and other violence, and those people still have their licenses," Weaver said.

Athan Tsimpedes, the attorney for Bobby Lew's, said, "Never to my knowledge has anyone's license been revoked for a first offense. It's not like there was an assault or selling alcohol to a minor -- it's about food sales, not an illegal act. There are other alternatives to shutting them down."

Weaver and Tsimpedes both told me that the Office of the Attorney General had asked the board to fine Bobby Lew's and suspend its liquor license for four days, and not to close it.

The ABC Board, however, was not swayed by this testimony, and, reading the letter of the law, voted 3-1 to revoke Bobby Lew's license (with three abstentions) and 6-1 to revoke Bossa's. The dissenting member in both cases was Mital Gandhi, who argued in the final ruling on Bobby Lew's that "revocation of a license should be done judiciously and only in extreme cases where the respondent is a violator of gross misconduct or egregious aspects of the law. Failing to meeting minimum food sales requirements does not rise to the level of extreme or egregious cases, absent extenuating circumstances, including, but not limited to excessive or repeated failure to comply.

"Moreover, there are other alternatives to revocation in this matter that should be considered and implemented, such as reduced hours and sales and service of alcoholic beverages, revocation of the entertainment endorsement, fines and/or suspension of the license."

The owners of Bossa and Bobby Lew's (and their attorneys) are set to meet with D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham, whose ward contains Adams Morgan, and try to work out an agreement.

Weaver is hopeful some sort of deal can be struck for the good of the neighborhood. "We'd like to see more restaurants, but ... these liquor licenses will just go away, and there will be no replacements," he said. "I'm afraid it's going to be five empty storefronts."

Corboy says the economic impact goes beyond the owners of the bars. "I employ 12 people and I'm the smallest place on the street. [Other non-compliant businesses] have 40 or 50 employees. Multiply that by 16, and that's the people out of jobs just [in Adams Morgan]."

On the other hand, Tsimpedes, who has represented other D.C. bars in litigation, said he sees bigger changes on the horizon. "This is not just about Bobby Lew's. To me, they're looking to change the landscape of Adams Morgan. They're using gross food sales to take liquor licenses away."

-- Fritz

Original 2:02 p.m. Post
At a meeting of D.C.'s Alcohol and Beverage Control Board yesterday, Bobby Lew's Saloon and Bossa Lounge had their liquor licenses revoked for low food sales. (Both have restaurant-class licenses, which require 45 percent of income to be derived from food sales, and neither was anywhere close to that threshold.)

Adams Morgan ANC Commissioner Bryan Weaver tells me that there are 16 other establishments that aren't complying with the food sale levels, and four others -- Adams Mill, Chloe, Grand Central and Ventnor Sports Cafe -- may also have their licenses revoked by the board in coming weeks.

Bobby Lew's and Bossa have 10 days to file for a reconsideration of the board's decision.

More on this story soon.

By Fritz Hahn  | May 14, 2009; 2:02 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs, Restaurants  
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Just takes us one step closer to U St officially becoming the new Adams Morgan

Posted by: Kev29 | May 14, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Ha, I was about to write it wouldn't kill Adams Morgan to have a few less bars but then started thinking it might drive more of the idiots down to Dupont.

Posted by: thedude1974 | May 14, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I think U Street is already the new Adams Morgan. Sigh.

I'm a little surprised that Ventnor is on this list- is it for the food sales or another reason?

Posted by: belmontmedina | May 14, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

This depresses me GREATLY!!!!! Bobby Lews was the best neighborhood, Cheers-esque bar in the neighborhood. If I promise to buy wings there for dinner every night, do you think they will reopen???

Posted by: iseedc | May 14, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

This is absurd. The District needs to spend more time supporting businesses that generate economic activity (yes, including bars) instead of overregulating them.

Posted by: ggWashDC | May 14, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Tsimpedes, who has represented other D.C. bars in litigation, said he sees bigger changes on the horizon. "This is not just about Bobby Lew's. To me, they're looking to change the landscape of Adams Morgan. They're using gross food sales to take liquor licenses away."


Yep. If it quacks like a duck...

I'm certainly not a fan of Adams Morgan, but these owners have a right to run a legitimate a business and to make every attempt to comply with the terms of their license. A 6 month review of their progress would have been more apropos. Revoking their license for such a minor violation -- sans other violations -- is very heavy handed. Do I smell something sinister here?

Posted by: Independent_Thinker | May 14, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

How are these people elected? And how do we get them replaced? I'd be interested to read an article on this topic. Are there any out there?

Posted by: fdb73 | May 14, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

OMG who cares

Posted by: devilsadvoc8 | May 14, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Well, if drinks didn't cost $5-$10 they might not have this problem...

Posted by: Osteph | May 14, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

As much as I love to eat, since my personal economy has tanked, I find that my favorite part of a meal is the wine. By the way, that's Almaden, Franzia, and Walmart's $2.97 per bottle (yet quite delicious) vintages.

Posted by: mcleangirl | May 14, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Just takes us one step closer to U St officially becoming the new Adams Morgan

Posted by: Kev29 | May 14, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Dude where are you from Mars? U Street has never, will never be second to Adams Morgan. Know that U(ST.) has been the hottest spot in DC since Union Town changed over to Anacostia. Peace, chicken grease and pay your lease...........

Posted by: knjon353 | May 14, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Well, if drinks didn't cost $5-$10 they might not have this problem...

Posted by: Osteph

Drinks cost loads more in Penn Quarter - they don't have the same problem. There are loads of things at play in this scenario.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 14, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Some ANCs need to just get the heck out of the way of progress.

Posted by: bs2004 | May 14, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I hope the city considers the amount of money in taxes they are losing by shutting down these places. Look at the caribou coffee that was on 18th a few years ago and nothing has replaced it or Spy Lounge.

Posted by: libr | May 14, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

The saddest part of this announcement is that Bobby Lew's is really a true neighborhood bar. Martin (the owner) is so friendly and loves meeting community residents and every Friday and Saturday night Bobby Lew can be spotted chilling in his namesake.

I encourage all to head over to Bobby Lews and order some food. In a time when "Town Tavern" type bars are entering Adams Morgan (with their steep drink prices and dress codes), the area really needs more neighborhood bars. I really hope that DC gives both of these places a second chance.

Posted by: skibumintraining | May 14, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Bobby Lew's sucks. And Bobby Lewis likes trying to kiss women who are married. Karma gets you bad buddy!

Posted by: ABHFGTY | May 14, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Ridiculous, outdated regulations like this only serve to drive up the already over-priced food in many of these types of establishments.

Posted by: Eurus | May 14, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

First the city is using parking tickets to fill in the budget shortfall, now they are engaging in political gustopo tactics to muscle businesses. It is a rough economy, folks aren't eating out as much, revenue for many restaurants are stale. This is not an INCREASING market.

The city is punishing business because the economy is bad.

Look for the District on next years, 20 most unlivible cities in the country.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | May 14, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Dear Glorious ANC People,

Thank you for protecting me from these rapacious tavern owners who want to sell me booze.

I'm going to enjoy strolling past the boarded-up store fronts before drinking alone in my basement as you prefer.

Keep up the great work!

Grateful Adams Morgan Resident

Posted by: hype1 | May 14, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

"Look for the District on next years, 20 most unlivible cities in the country."

It already is on that list since the cost of living is so well as the crime rate. Not to mention, over-crowded and 2nd/3rd most traffic congested metro's in the country.

You can cry and complain about these petty things today...but tomorrow you'll move on and find another drinking hole.

Posted by: pdxspace | May 14, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse

What is it with the USA and its Taliban-like liquor laws?

The Brits and the Aussies also have some kinda wacky alcohol restrictions, but nothing as bad as ours. In the whole rest of the non-Muslim world, America's obsessively restrictive alcohol sales laws are pretty much unimaginable.

I loved buying a "to-go" glass of wine from a street vendor in Germany, and sipping it as I walked down the street. Ah, freedom -- what a concept!

Posted by: DupontJay | May 14, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

So DC which is strapped for cash and trying to extort 200 million from drivers in the city via parking tickets, wants to close 16 money-making, tax-paying businesses? This is typical of the psychotic District government and their martinet bureaucrats.

Posted by: curious606 | May 14, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Bossa has been for the longest time the coolest Bistro of Adams Morgan. They feature live music every nite, plus they have a very international crowd AND DELICIOUS FOOD. What a crime DC Council members ad ABC are doing t theses business. Save the world from the deep pockets of the developers. small business, yes...

Posted by: wadepinho | May 14, 2009 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Why do people move to cities and then try to convert them to sterile suburbs like Reston? What a bunch of idiots to run a small business out of business in the middle of a recession.

Posted by: PepperDr | May 14, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

This is absolutely ridiculous. An overzealous ABC Board, a two-faced ANC, and of course Grandstanding Graham.

First, the ABC Board must be kidding. Are these people absolute idiots for closing businesses in the middle of one of the worst economic recessions in our lives? They should be helping businesses, not shutting them down! DC is losing tax revenue, not to mention jobs by this ridiculous decision.

Second, I believe the ANC is absolutely two-faced. They walk a very fine line by always complaining to the council and the abc board, and then when something does happen, they throw their hands up in disguist. I have lived in this neighborhood for 18 years and I know first hand that these idiot ANC Commissioners do not represent the neighborhoods.

Finally, I believe Graham is behind the shutting of these two wonderful places. I remember it was he who wanted the DC Government to crack down on these food requirements and then Jack Evans came along and saved them for a year or two. He likes to be a power broker and now he will try to come up with a solution. Everybody must realize that he creates these scenarios, so exactly this happens and he gets more airtime on news channels. He is totally a grandstander and i hope viters get to know this. He actually advocates for less jobs in his Ward. What type of councilmember does that??

Posted by: jschmidtdc | May 14, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

This is absurd. I love Bobby Lew's.

These regulations on food sales need to go.

Posted by: rrschrumjr | May 15, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

What a load of BS! Corboy and Lewis are getting screwed! This is despicable on the part of the ABC. Just goes to show that no one should invest in a city that champions a former crack addict mayor and a current cocaine fueled mayor.

Posted by: G411 | May 15, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

This is certainly BAD NEWS! BOSSA is one of the greatest establishments 18th Street has to offer. I live across the street (and down a bit) from it and appreciate their delicious food and drinks and open-mic nights when it hosts for the DC Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency. Why not close Tom Tom's instead?! I can offer a few other names that often cause problems, rather than bring positive energy to Adams Morgan. One prime example of a GOOD CLOSURE was of Felix Spy Lounge, which attracted lots of crime (I know this as a fact as it's neighbor). SAVE BOSSA!

Posted by: Farrah827 | May 15, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

NO! Are they *trying* to get rid of the last good businesses in Adams Morgan? Echoing what Farrah827 says, and also as a resident of the area, Bossa is one of the best bars and most innocuous bars in Adams Morgan. Bobby Lew's is a lousy bar, but compared to dregs like Tom Tom's or the Brass Monkey/Spaghetti Garden/Roxanne's nightmare fiesta, it's totally benign. PRIORITIES.

Posted by: ltoe | May 19, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Spaghetti Garden is amazing.

Posted by: gandorfdapirate | May 21, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

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