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Mt. Pleasant's Faint Strains Of Music

The news releases claiming victory in the years-long battle over music in Mount Pleasant arrived within a couple of hours of each other. Two bitter opponents in the struggle over whether to ban live music and dancing from the restaurants along the retail strip of Mount Pleasant Street each argued that the District's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board had sided with them.

The Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance (MPNA), the citizens group that initially won the ban on live music in 1997, crowed about how its "voluntary agreements" with local restaurants "remain in effect."

Hear Mount Pleasant, a much newer coalition of neighborhood residents created in good part to fight for the right of businesses and musicians to provide entertainment, declared "a major victory" and reported that the ABC Board "has ruled that music and dancing will return to restaurants" in the Northwest Washington neighborhood.

Who's right? On the surface, everybody is. But the bottom line is clear: The old agreement prevented Mount Pleasant eateries from providing live music, dancing or late night entertainment. The new rules say, Go for it.

Indeed, the ABC Board's 23-page ruling is a fine exemplar of cautious and diplomatic language, but beneath the great care in making nice to everyone, the board clearly sided with residents who believe that the agreements that the MPNA won from restaurant owners a decade ago were not entirely voluntary, that Mount Pleasant is a less happy and safe place without the mariachi bands and other entertainment that once kept its streets busy well into the night, and that when neighbors and business owners together agree that they want a livelier streetscape, they should have the chance to make that work.

Despite MPNA president Laurie Collins' claim that her organization "supports live entertainment," the group has fought for years to prevent restaurants such as Haydee's and Don Jaime's from providing music or dancing, especially at night.

In the end, Collins' group saw the writing on the wall and proposed a very limited relaxation of the existing ban, allowing music until 10 p.m. three nights a week and until midnight on weekends, with no dancing permitted.

Hear Mount Pleasant, in contrast, proposed that the board allow live music until midnight on weekdays and till 1:30 a.m. on weekends, with dancing.

The board's ruling tried to split the difference, settling on an 11 p.m. stop to the music Sundays through Wednesdays, a midnight curfew on Thursdays, and a 1 a.m. end to the show on Fridays and Saturdays. With dancing.

This is your government in action--legions of lawyers and bureaucrats arguing over what time a band should stop playing.

In fairness to the ABC Board, it had to sift through mountains of testimony by residents and business people on all sides of the music question. Clearly, there's a cultural divide in Mount Pleasant, and, happily, it's not an ethnic divide. Rather, it's a matter of how you live--some people like busy streets with lots of nightlife, and some people go to bed early and figure that everyone else does too.

Hear Mount Pleasant collected 1,671 signatures on a petition seeking an end to the ban on live music. And residents such as Todd Pfeiffer, who owns a hardware store on Mount Pleasant Street and lives five houses from retail corridor, told the board that late night noise is not a major problem and that live music could help improve the neighborhood.

But Marika Torok of the MPNA told the board that late night music would disturb the neighbors, who don't want to see Mount Pleasant become more like Adams Morgan. Midnight, she said, is a reasonable hour for restaurants to close on a weekend. Another resident, Garret Fletcher, went further: Nobody eats dinner after 10 p.m., he told the board, so live entertainment ought not be permitted after that hour.

(Call out the alarm! Shut down all the all-night eateries! Nobody eats dinner after 10 p.m.!)

In the end, the board unfortunately decided to keep the supposedly voluntary agreements that the neighborhood alliance got restaurant owners to sign by threatening to challenge their liquor licenses if they didn't agree to the group's music ban. But the board amended those agreements to ease restrictions on music, allow dancing and permit owners to institute cover charges.

Board members were persuaded that entertainment "would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood." Now it's up to Hear Mount Pleasant, whose members worked tirelessly for years to win this concession, to work with the local businesses to make the new music scene an inviting and peaceful one.

Democracy in the District can be a painfully slow and frustrating beast, but the decision by the ABC Board has demonstrated that a committed group of neighbors can make reason prevail and can beat back the bullies--not every time, but often enough to get people to keep pushing for what's good and right.

By Marc Fisher |  April 25, 2008; 8:12 AM ET
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It is interesting how this article avoids to comment on the fact that the two restaurants that have been "bullied" are Latino owned and that the neighbors that support the ban seem to fear Latino entertainment and Latinos dancing.

Posted by: vecina | April 25, 2008 9:58 AM

Congratulations to Hear Mount Pleasant. It is amazing to me that a small minority of people who want the city to be like the suburbs has been allowed to take control for so long. The best comment that shows ridiculousness of this minority: "Nobody eats dinner after 10pm." Businesses should be selling alcohol and playing music till 6 am.

Posted by: PersonL | April 25, 2008 10:01 AM

Laurie Collins is no longer a Mr Pleasant resident. She was rude to me the first time I met her and is willing to burn bridges with the new residents who moved to the city and expect city-style fun, like having a restaurant that has live bands. I'm sure she is welcome with open arms in Chantilly or areas more suiting her personality, but she doesn't live in MtP and represents a group of 50-something retirees.

Posted by: DCer | April 25, 2008 11:19 AM

Mr. Fisher in his repeated columns ignores the three other groups that protested the licenses. One of the closest neighbors to one of the restaurants was Latina. The hours settled on were very close to what those groups wanted. Also ignored is that many of the signatures Hear Mt. Pleasant collected were from outside the neighborhood. Board member Avery lives closer to 14th street than Mt. Pleasant--why isn't she seeking live entertainment in her own business corridor? Yet Ms. Avery and other Hear Mt. P board members free to call residents like me racist, elitist etc. based upon my job, not any action I have taken in this debate. This has been a horribly divisive issue for the neighborhood. Even of more concern is the number of vacant store fronts on the main street combined with the restaurant and tavern ban in Adams Morgan.

Posted by: DeniseW | April 25, 2008 11:24 PM

Steering committee member Avery (Hear Mt Pleasant is not yet incorporated and therefore does not yet have a Board) lives closer to Mt Pleasant Street than the majority of Mt Pleasant residents. And, she doesn't need to try to get live music on 14th St because they already have it -- perhaps that's one of the reasons they're thriving.

Mt Pleasant now has to compete with that booming commercial corridor on 14th St. So, obviously, there's no question that the vacant store fronts on Mt Pleasant St are a huge concern. One of the solutions is to make Mt Pleasant a business-friendly environment with fewer restrictions on how proprieters conduct their business affairs, i.e., loosen up (if not eliminate) the VA's. Someone looking to open a business on the main strip will be much more likely to occupy one of these vacant storefronts if they don't have to answer to a civic group trying to micro-manage their business operations. Businesses will hopefully be attracted to Mt Pleasant once they can be assured they will be welcomed with good faith and collaboration, and will be encouraged to be creative in their efforts to attract customers.

Posted by: AndreaB | April 26, 2008 12:13 AM

I still find it baffling that Laurie Collins, who now lives in Cleveland Park, still has a say in Mount Pleasant's affairs. Yes, she says she's moving back, but she's been saying this for awhile now. Will she ever actually follow through on her promise?

For the opponents of Hear Mount Pleasant to complain about one of HMP's leaders living on 14th Street while ignoring the fact that Laurie Collins lives in Cleveland Park is the ultimate in hypocrisy.

Posted by: Longtime Mt.P Resident | April 26, 2008 12:51 AM

Reading this editorial and especially the comments below saddens me and makes me feel a bit embarrassed about my neighborhood.

I don't have an oar in this boat but it is pretty frustrating to see people continue to bring Mt. Pleasant dialogue down into the gutter by bringing up racism among other things...

This is not about where Ms. Avery or Ms. Collins lives, nor about where they will live in the future, this is not about whether the restaurants are thai, chinese, latino, european, etc...

Live entertainment also should not be the end all be all panacea for businesses looking to survive when facing competition from outside the neighborhood like all the new Col Hgts metro area retail. Residents and business owners should be having dialogue about a myriad of things they can do to attract more business - from marketing, their appearance, their cleanliness, their offerings, etc. -- as well as about how to balance business interests and profit-making with quality of life in the community

There are many who are focusing so much on this one debate that to me it seems they are causing all other issues to be eclipsed by the question of live entertainment in the community - many issues that I would view far more crucial to getting resolved, that need lively dialogue, that can be more effectively addressed with collaboration from all sides...from rats, trash, parks, to safety on the streets and whatever else in between.

Can we stop the drama on this and move on? All this name calling and accusations are just a big turn off and I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way.

Posted by: Mike T. | April 26, 2008 9:29 AM

Ms Natalive Avery and Ms. Andrea Blanchard are pushing a hot button issue in a neighborhood that is not theirs. since they are not homeowners and they are not business owners they do not have a dog in this fight. next thing we know we will have georgetown residents fabricating reasons why they think they can have a say here?? where does it stop??

LC has lived here for years. she is the president of THE neighborhood organization. she owns a house here. she is entitled to participate.

14th street is 100% commercial. Mtp is residential. that seems a small difference butu maybe too subtle for hear mtp AndreaB (a non neighbor) to appreciate.

they tried to make this about race and class, but denisew is right. a latina neighbor was against hear mtp who by the way makes them look like huge fools all the time.


coolness factor: LC is way, way cool. i would be embarrassed to be associated in anyway to hear mtp.

Posted by: another long time resident | April 26, 2008 9:33 AM

Mike T:

FYI, Hear Mt Pleasant is doing a lot of work to help business owners in Mt Pleasant make improvements to keep their businesses viable and competitive. We participate in Mt Pleasant Main Street Meetings, Mt Pleasant business association meetings, and have close working relationships with Haydee, Jaime, and Albert (owner of Don Juan) to help them strategize around making changes that will help their businesses thrive. In fact, memebers of our steering committee just attended a really important meeting last week convened by Mt Pleasant Main Street to bring the community together to talk about how to bring new business to the commercial strip.

The live music debate has become such a hot button issue that all of the other work we do simply doesn't get any press so people aren't aware of it. The same is true for MPNA -- they do a lot of other work in the community that doesn't necessarily get covered by the Post.

As for the issues around race and class, it is very unfortunate that these tensions still exist in our neighborhood. But the reality is that many members of the community have felt discriminated against for a long time. As a group, Hear Mt Pleasant is committed to listening to these concerns. We will not sweep them under the rug or tell people who feel discriminated against that they are being divisive simply because they are speaking their own personal truths. We are committed to listening to everybody, to opening the dialogue to include voices that may have not previously been heard, and to healing these tensions through open, honest, and respectful dialogue.

long time resident:

I love Mt Pleasant. It is my home and my community. Since people continue to bring up the issue of myself and Ms Avery not living in the neighborhood, I will reiterate what I have said before -- Ms. Avery may live two blocks away but she shops and eats more in Mt Pleasant than Columbia Heights. She lived in the neighborhood for many years, but when she and her husband started a family, they couldn't afford to buy a house in Mt Pleasant, so they bought one as close to the neighborhood as they could afford, which is less than 2 blocks away. I lived in Mt Pleasant for many years until I couldn't afford it anymore. I now live for cheap in LeDroit Park, but will be moving back as soon as I can find a 1BR apartment for under $1000, or until I pay off enough of my student loans to afford the high rents in Mt Pleasant.

There's no reason why people who have lived in Mt P, been dedicated and committed community members, and still shop and eat and play on the main strip, can't participate in community affairs simply because they've been priced out.

Andrea Blatchford
Steering Committee
Hear Mt Pleasant

Posted by: AndreaB | April 26, 2008 12:48 PM

"Even of more concern is the number of vacant store fronts on the main street combined with the restaurant and tavern ban in Adams Morgan."

If anyone is interested in working on revitalizing our business district and making sure our existing businesses remain viable, there is much work to do, and we would appreciate your efforts. I for one am very appreciative of the many hard hours of work that Natalie and Andrea put into out community - on behalf of Hear Mount Pleasant and many other organizations here. There are vital members of our Steering Committee, and justify there roles with countless hours of work in our community - much like Laurie Collins does.

David Sachdev
Steering Committee
Hear Mount Pleasant

Posted by: David Sachdev | April 26, 2008 1:39 PM

I disagree. non-residents should not be meddling in neighborhood affairs, particularly those that are hot button issues. the day ms avery or ms blanchard own homes or businesses here, or even rent, let me know. in the meantime neighbors do not want them intervening. besides, their slander (yeah this was not passive listening to concerns of racism but nasty, fabricated accusations published even in their own webpage) has hurt us residents.

and i agree with mike that it is enough with the topic and that we should move on!hopefully the sorry cast of Hear MtP characters will give space to others since neighbors literrally avoid anything related to Hear MtP.

even today, it was sad to hear that some of my neighbors arrived to a neighborhood music event today, and as soon as they saw the Hear MtP table set up there, assumed that it was a Hear MtP event and LEFT! after their improper playing of the race card no one i know would endorse anything with their name attached!!!

Posted by: MtP AnnaL | April 27, 2008 12:29 AM

Hi all,

I grew up in Mt. Pleasant throughout the 70s and 80s, lived in and around the neighborhood for much of my adult life thereafter, and now live in another nearby city. I come home to DC a lot, and think often of moving back. When I come home, I stay with my dad in Columbia Heights, attend the church I grew up going to in Mt. Pleasant, have a beer at the Raven or some takeout from Don Juan, and walk around and visit my friends (mostly in Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights), including people I have known literally my entire life of 35 years. I no longer live in Mt. Pleasant but it remains an important place for me.

A neighborhood is not just about the political boundaries of your ANC, ward or school district: those precious lines that people fight so hard to be on the "right" side of. A neighborhood -- a community -- is made up of people and their family and social connections and personal histories. People do not need to own property in a neighborhood, or, dare I say, even *live* within a neighborhood's boundaries, in order to participate in a neighborhood's social life. I understand there are people on both sides of the live music issue who no longer live in Mt. Pleasant but still care deeply about that community, and they -- as people who have been intimately connected to Mt. Pleasant for years -- have every right to be involved in this debate.

When you just start thinking about your neighborhood in terms of who lives inside and who lives outside, who belongs and who doesn't, who has a right to participate and who doesn't, then you have really narrowed your understanding of community.

Amanda Huron
Brooklyn, New York

Posted by: Amanda Huron | April 28, 2008 11:56 AM

Many, many people who used to live west of 16th St. in Mt. Pleasant have had to move east because their houses got converted into condos or they couldn't afford rent increases and couldn't afford anything else west of 16th, but still have all of their social networks in the neighborhood, volunteer, and shop in the neighborhood, and, as Andrea said, many live closer to Mt. P St. than anyone living west of 18th St. Some of you may be surprised to know that lots of Mt. Pleasant residents consider the eastern border of the neighborhood to be 14th St., and the western border to be Mt. Pleasant St. or 17th St. (This was the common view in the apt building I used to live in on Mt. P St, and it's supported by research I and others have done on the topic of neighborhood borders.) West of 17th St. is often referred to not as "Mt. Pleasant", but as "Cleveland Park East", "the area around Bancroft [Elementary School], or "where the White people live", and lots of people who live on Mt. Pleasant St. don't think that those who live west of Mt. P St. or 17th St. should have any say in what happens on Mt. P Street. But most of the people who live on Mt. P St. are not involved in neighborhood organizations, and don't have public voice. Some residents' consideration of 16th St. as the n'hood border is a relatively recent phenomenon, and a phenomenon not embraced by a large part of the population of Mt. Pleasant living west of 16th. It's very convenient to reify the ANC border as a line that defines community membership, when it's the people with less money who are the ones who've been forced across 16th St. It's also worth noting that the ANC eastern border included a number of blocks between 16th and 15th St. up until the results of the 2000 census changed them. I remember in the late 90s, many of the same people who are now reifying 16th St. as the border because it marks the ANC district, used to say, well, those blocks east of 16th are in the ANC borders, but they're not really part of the neighborhood. Very convenient to hold up ANC borders when it serves your argument. And defining community membership as property ownership?? With that argument, the slumlords of the Deauville should have more say in Mt. P goings on than the residents displaced by the fire. (And should *they* no longer have a voice since their displacement??)

Posted by: GaleyM | April 28, 2008 5:16 PM

Dear Another Long Time Resident,

Glad to see that landownership in Mt. Pleasant privileges your likes and dislikes, as well as absentee rentiers like Laurie Colling over those of apartment dwellers. How 18th Century of you.

Drunkenness, litter, and public urination are all bad, but there are laws on the books to combat them. They have nothing to do with mariachi bands or people enjoying music. Shame on you.

Posted by: Almaty, Kazakhstan | April 30, 2008 12:32 PM

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