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Who's That Telling D.C. Not To Keep Its Bars Open Late?

Look, I happen to believe that the D.C. Council's decision last week to let Washington's bars keep serving alcoholic beverages til 5 a.m. during Inauguration Week is the dumbest idea to come out of the Wilson Building this year. But when the sober solons of Capitol Hill put on their schoolmarm hats and start with their lectures to the District government about how to behave like responsible adults, it's time to put personal views aside.

Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Robert Bennett of Utah have written a stern note to Mayor Adrian Fenty, your basic first step on the road to yet another move by Congress to stomp on the District. Feinstein and Bennett "are deeply concerned that the plan approved by the City Council could seriously strain law enforcement resources that need to be focused on the large crowds and security requirements of the Inaugural and its impact on the City."

Quite true. Even D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier is known to be royally, um, unhappy about the council's decision, which was taken without consultation with the chief. (Fenty muzzled the chief's criticism, and she proceeded to duly salute and announce that she's perfectly happy to send her dog-tired officers out to babysit thousands of Obama fans on all-night benders even as the cops work round-the-clock shifts while the city is overrun with Inauguration celebrants.)

But then the senators go on to issue the classic, not-so-subtle warning of impending Hill bigfooting: "We understand the pressures you face from the different constituencies in your city. But we also know the importance of standing firm to ensure the safety of residents, workers and visitors who will be in Washington, D.C., participating in this historic event." Translation: Reverse yourselves, council members, or we'll throw you into a reversal faster than you can say "budget veto."

Now, let's take a quick look at who's interfering in District policy here. Dianne Feinstein is the former mayor of San Francisco, a city in which late-night carousing is not entirely unknown. (California authorities say San Francisco has one of the highest number of bars per capita of any place in the state.)

Indeed, Feinstein was for many years a regular at an establishment known to some as The Washbag--more formally, the Washington Square Bar & Grill, a San Francisco hangout for mayors, pols, newspaper hacks, sports figures and other such vermin. It was, in the words of an L.A. Times story from 2000, "full of music and smoke, good drinks and good food." The manager of the joint, which closed for good earlier this year, was one Lynn Kennedy, who happens to be Dianne Feinstein's sister.

So we have one senator who should have a good sense of what the hospitality and nightlife businesses mean to a city such as Washington.

And then we have Robert Bennett, who is a Mormon from Utah, but earlier in life was the corporate PR man for Howard Hughes, who then owned gambling casinos in Las Vegas, giving Bennett a front-row seat onto the bacchanalia in the desert.

Whatever their own experiences with late-night barhopping, the senators have about as much business poking into the alcoholic beverage controls of the District of Columbia as they do into how the city sets its taxi fares. Oh, well, bad analogy.

Will Fenty and council Chairman Vincent Gray cave to the senators' pressure? The council meets Tuesday, and emergency legislation can be erased just as quickly as it is approved. Commence backpedaling. But chin up, D.C politicians--if there's any sort of incident during the Inauguration week, don't worry, you and your police force will get all the blame.

By Marc Fisher |  December 10, 2008; 8:51 AM ET
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The Inauguration is going to be a disaster for DC anyway, so why not kick it into full epic failure mode?

Posted by: nuke41 | December 10, 2008 9:11 AM

Here's an idea-since, even without all night barhopping, police in the city will be overwhelmed because everyone and their brother from elsewhere in the country will be descending on DC, why don't the Senators and representatives ask their jurisdiction to donate a few good law enforcement officers to lessen the strains placed upon us? Maybe then I might consider listening to these misguided rants by politcans who think they know how to run my city. Contribute a few police to help with the crowd issues, and then maybe we can negotiate on the drinking issue. But until then, keep your nose out of DC's business.

Posted by: RedBirdie | December 10, 2008 9:16 AM

It was ever thus; Congresspeople generally seem unable to resist the temptation to try to run this town, in which they are but temporary visitors. Who can forget the needless re-signing of the entire metro system to "properly" identify the airport, or the fantastic scheme to sell Roosevelt Island for a shopping mall and condos?

My answer is to send reports of this sort of wacky meddling back to the press in the respective Congresspersons; districts. Not that constituents in Utah, California, or elsewhere care about DC, but they should wonder why their elected representatives have the time to meddle in municipal management when they're supposed to be representing their districts and states.

Posted by: threeoaksgone | December 10, 2008 9:25 AM

Amen RedBirdie!

If our firefighters will go at a moment's notice to another place in the country to help fight fires or do other rescue missions, then why can't we have police from other cities dispatched to DC in a gesture of goodwill and assistance? What about cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Richmond sending in some reinforcements??

And by the way, Dianne Feinstein can go where the sun don't shine. She (and all the other members of Congress minus Elenore Holmes Norton) have no business messing in the District's affairs!

Posted by: around | December 10, 2008 9:28 AM

I really fail to understand what your complaint is since you seem to agree with just about everything in the Feinstein's letter to Mayor Fenty? Slow day at the office?

Posted by: kevin1231 | December 10, 2008 9:31 AM

Freedom doesn't mean anything if you don't have the freedom to make mistakes. Marc merely wants the municipal authorities in DC to be free.

Posted by: edbyronadams | December 10, 2008 9:39 AM

Gee, when was the last time Norton went out to Utah or California, called a press conference and then commented on some problems she saw in Salt Lake (oh, and there are many) or LA (ditto). Now, you're probably thinking, why the H would she ever do that?


Posted by: tslats | December 10, 2008 10:08 AM

"So we have one senator who should have a good sense of what the hospitality and nightlife businesses mean to a city such as Washington."

This is a misleading statement -- or a disingenuous one.

No one is suggesting a reduction in DC's current bar hours; no one is trying to deprive "a city such as Washington" of its "hospitality and nightlife businesses."

These senators are simply asking that operating hours not be extended. That's quite different than proposing legislation that would cut into businessess' current traffic and profits.

Posted by: kjohnson3 | December 10, 2008 10:23 AM

So Feinstein used to visit her sister's bar a lot and she comes from San Francisco which has a lot of bars. And Bennett is oooh a Morman and used to work for a guy who ooh owned casinos in Vegas... and your point?

That was just about the stupidest, lamest blog post you've ever written.

1) San Fran bars stop serving alcohol at 2am just like the rest of California no matter how many bars they have.

2) Who cares if Feinstein used to visit a bar her sister owned!

3) Who cares that Bennett is a Morman except religious bigots. Why bring that up at all? Are you a religious bigot Marc?

Here's an analogy for you. If DC government decided to legalize murder, Marc Fisher would be against it. But whoa, if Congress told the DC Council to think twice about legalizing murder - not that they would step in and reverse it, just to reconsider it - Marc Fisher would all of the sudden be for legalized murder.

Grow up Marc. Members of Congress often tell other states they don't belong in to do or not do something. "Don't build that bridge" they (Arizona's McCain for example) said to Alaska. "Don't try passing tougher emissions standards" any representative or Senator from Michigan told California. Etc., etc.

You wanna be a state, DC? Well, that's what it is really like. If you don't like the federal government stepping in from time to time, then you can stand behind the mask of "state's rights" folks like Mard and all that entails... including bringing up someone's religion to argue against their position.

Posted by: prokaryote | December 10, 2008 10:31 AM

The days of the Gold Rush and the Barbary Coast ended over a century ago, Mr. Fisher, so citing the fact that Feinstein, the ex- mayor of **SAN FRANCISCO,** doesn't think bars should stay open until 5:00 am doesn't exactly knock us off our bar stools.

We may have more bars here, but they close at 2:00 am -- not quite the same as staying open until almost dawn.

Posted by: paft | December 10, 2008 10:33 AM

As a longtime San Franciscan, a resident of the Haight-Ashbury, and a former resident of DC, I can say with conviction that DC bars, even with those wild and crazy extended hours, uh, what is the word I'm looking for? Oh, yes,... SUCK.

Posted by: Tess6 | December 10, 2008 10:41 AM

The DC City Council and Mayor Fenty have harmed District residents twice with their rash and irresponsible "emergency legislation." First, by exposing city residents to the dangers of 24-hour drinking during an emotionally charged four-day weekend when police will be overwhelmed by millions of visitors. They can’t keep order in Adams Morgan on regular weekends. This legislation will cause mayhem.
Second, they're inviting Congress to intervene in our affairs. I was outraged when Congress forced us to overturn the gun ban, but what can we expect when our elected officials prove that they’re incapable of behaving responsibly?

Posted by: dcnative70 | December 10, 2008 10:56 AM

Why this paranoia about alcohol? With the exception perhaps of a few teetotaling outposts in the British isles and Scandanavia we are the soberest society in the history of Western Civilization. Why do you assume that leaving bars open a couple of nights til 5 am is going to lead to pandemonium like Greece is experiencing right now? This reminds me of a situation a couple of years ago when local police effectively killed a law that would have allowed restaurants to seal unfinished bottles of wine for customers to take home. Nannyism at its worst.

Posted by: Cossackathon | December 10, 2008 11:04 AM

I agree that this is a really stupid idea, but in the end, two Senators don't make a majority. The final proposal has to be approved by Congress, and what are the chances Feinstein and Bennett have the backing to turn it their way?

Posted by: akchild | December 10, 2008 11:11 AM

A lot of posters here seem to either have forgotten, or just don't know, because of the Home Rule Act, Congress gets the final say on all DC policies. Elenor Holms Norton is a Delegate, not a Senator. She's part of the House of Representatives, and doesn't have much of a voice. DC has a shadow Senator (which I think may still be Paul Strauss, but I'm not 100% on that), but again, he doesn't have much of a voice.

The point is, Feinstein and Bennett aren't saying these things to be nosey. They're trying to bend Senatorial opinion their way, so they can ultimately over-rule the plans, should the Council continue to stick by it. Again, I don't know if they have the backing to accomplish that goal, but they're obligated to speak their minds and try.

Posted by: akchild | December 10, 2008 11:29 AM

"A lot of posters here seem to either have forgotten, or just don't know, because of the Home Rule Act, Congress gets the final say on all DC policies."

I'm quite aware of that fact, but I'm also quite tired of being a second-class citizen in my own country.

Posted by: RedBirdie | December 10, 2008 11:40 AM

DISRESPECT. The operative question is do the Citizens and/or the DC Council and/or the Mayor need to send a letter to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, or Provo and tell those local jurisdictions that we don't want them doing something there local leaders have passed. This again is the height of DISRESPECT by fools who can't keep their own houses in order. And I don't want to hear any bs about Washington, DC is their city also. That’s a lie. None of these people (senator or staffer) pay any income taxes to support Washington, DC and last time I checked in the capitalist system we use, he who pays (DC Citizens) the piper calls the tune. Neither Senator nor their constituents would even dignify a letter from DC with an answer if DC were to do what they have done. The senators and their constituents would laugh.
With respect to the 'liquor hours' DC should benefit from the increased sales (liquor, food, etc.) since DC is going to be footing a hefty bill for all the 'USE' the city will be under during the inaugural time frame. I say that, since, I have seen nothing that the Senators have put forward in making sure DC is reimbursed for the costs (direct and indirect)of holding such an event. Also, you are correct in the previous comment, some 'stupid' staffer signed on to this without thought, or asking, and now the 'boss' is towing the line.
As far as the FOP (DC) membership is concerned, the majority (prob. above 85%) of whom, don’t live in DC either (and pay no taxes here to support their salary), so their ‘opinion’ is just that. They work for the city and the citizens of Washington, DC. Again if you don’t like the ‘tune’ call, move into the city, put your money where your mouth and (JOB) is and participate, otherwise go back to where you have your money and your life and concern yourself with happenings there.

Posted by: DCDCSW | December 10, 2008 11:43 AM

The D.C. Council needs to take this one step further: they are going to let bars stay open all night but they're still closing metro at 2am?!? What?! Miloy writes an interesting article about how they are going to get everyone back out of the City but it sounds like they won't need to. Everyone can just go to one of DC's wild and crazy bars and wait for metro to re-open.

They're expecting 4 million people here and they want to close the metro at 2am? Freaks.

Posted by: capecodner424 | December 10, 2008 11:55 AM

Senator Feinstein has good reasons to be concerned. We should not forget that terrorists have bombed several bars in different countries. With so many people congregated in one area for the inauguration, it is possible that terrorists could use that opportunity to attack a bar or any kind of gathering in the D.C. area. So, I am sure Feinstein is considering the logistics of keeping everybody safe, while the bar owners are only concerned about making extra money. However, the old cliche, "it is better to be safe than sorry" makes a lot sense in this case.

Posted by: fridaolay | December 10, 2008 12:38 PM

Oh, give me a break.

So Dianne Feinstein used to hang out at a bar (gasp!) in San Francisco (Gasp!) that was owned by her sister-in-law or something (double Gasp!).

So Senator Bennett of Utah is a Mormon.

Who cares?

The point is, letting bars stay open until 5 a.m. on Inauguration Day is pure stupidity, particularly given that Metro is going to shut down at 2 a.m.

You already said you agree with Feinstein and Bennett, so what's the big issue here? Feinstein and Bennett may not live here, but (at least some of the time) they work here, and they're members of the body that oversees D.C. Get over it.

As for me, the prospect of being part of a crowd of 4 million makes me shudder, particularly if plans for handling that crowd are in the hands of the D.C. government, Metro, and the federal government. No, thanks; I'll be out of town.

Posted by: ajsmithva | December 10, 2008 1:38 PM

The DC Council should pass emergency legislation lowering the drinking age in Utah to 12 and requiring San Francisco to provide the Book of Mormon to all bar patrons.

What do you think Senators? Fair play?

Posted by: AngryLiberal | December 10, 2008 2:55 PM

You make excellent points The District is not a state within the Union. It is the Federal City. It's just too bad that Marc and the other Home Rule/Statehood shills cannot get their minds around that fact. And while we're on the subject, DC does not just belong to the residents of the District. It belongs collectively to the 50 states in the Union. People in Utah and California have a vested interest in what happens in their capital city. The Home Rule Bill was a compromise between total Federal control and governance of the District and abdicating the governance of the Federal City to the local residents alone.

Tired of being a second-class citizen in your own country? Then get your city off of Federal welfare and let your DC taxes rise 69%, or $4.1B. That's about $780,000 per capita or a little over $3M for each family of four living in the District. I don't know of any other entity in the country that gets that kind of Federal welfare, Alaska included. No wonder members of Congress feel obliged from time to time to stick their noses into DC business.

Posted by: hisroc | December 10, 2008 3:05 PM

It seems that emotions are getting the better of reason in these silly arguments. It's bad enough that the DC police everytime there are these marches or huge events are taken away from their daily duties of protecting the citizens of the district from crime. So here we have the biggest event ever in DC and not only will District residents be exposed to crimes while District policemen babysit these outsiders, but district resident, who have no voting rights, will be exposed to more drunking drivers on the road and much later than usual. Is anybody concerned about the public drunmeness that will be demonstrated and the drunks that will be getting into their cars and driving through our city.

Posted by: renegade2 | December 10, 2008 3:34 PM

The next DC Council emergency legislation should ban all alcohol sales in San Francisco and force all polygamists in Utah to sleep with only one wife during the week of the inaugural.

Posted by: hoos3014 | December 10, 2008 4:04 PM

Hey, it's really great at all that you're ridiculing San Francisco in this article. But as a San Francisco resident, I should note that even on Friday and Saturday nights, most bars really start pushing people out around 1:30. Unfortunately for you, it's not the crazy, seedy place you make it out to be.

That being said, I'll be DC on Inauguration Day, and I love the rule change. I realize it makes policing harder, but if there were ever a reason to celebrate, it's Barack Obama taking the oath of office. My own Sen. Feinstein should keep her hand away from DC politics.

Posted by: egoldin | December 10, 2008 4:10 PM


As yes, the "Taxation Without Representation/No Voting Rights" argument is the local DC application of Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies.

Let me give you the perspective of someone who lives in Virginia. As a citizen of the United States, I have every right to visit the Federal City and, because of my business in Virginia, I must frequently enter DC. However, I am subject to the laws, policies, and the arbitrary enforcement of the same. If a DC resident gets an unfair parking ticket, such as daring to park at a broken meter and getting a ticket anyway, he can appeal to his member of the DC Council for constituent assistance after his appeal to the parking gods is denied. A resident of Virginia has no such avenue of appeal. I have even asked my member of Congress to assist me in one particularly egregious case and they blew him off as well, probably because he is a Republican.

So, you see, people living in the states around DC, especially those of us in the near suburbs, know all about the No Voting Rights phenomenon. Yes, I know, the same thing can happen to a DC resident in Fairfax County. The difference is that Fairfax County isn't run by a bureaucracy that combines the efficiency of the Postal Service with the compassion of the IRS.

Posted by: hisroc | December 10, 2008 4:16 PM

I definitely support bars staying open until 5:00 am, and persoanlly don't think we should put any limits on hours at all. Our society has moved to a 24 hour society and while we might think someone doesn't need to go out for a drink at 9:00 am, but you must remember, that thre are many people getting off of work then, for whom this would be their happy hour. It should be up to the individual business to decide what is profitable for them.

In terms of policing, the only well policed neighborhood in DC really is Adams Morgan, and that is because the businesses in that area pay for it. What I resent is people saying that we shouldn't be able to have bars open until then because the police need to be focused on the people in town for the inaguaration. For the person who talked about DC receiving federal funds - of course we should, seeing as how we are expected to use our resources for so many people who don't live here!

People forget that DC is a living city with actual residents. No one is concerned that we are going to be so inconvenienced by these millions of people coming here - my husband has to work and is worried that with driving impossible, the metro most likely to be too packed, that his only option may be to walk the 3+ miles each day and I will have a friend staying with us who lives in VA and also has to work in DC and knows there is no way he can get in every day -the least we can do is at least allow our economy to benefit from it and our businesses to profit a little.

In any case, it should be our right to decide.

Posted by: EAR0614 | December 10, 2008 4:54 PM

Oh, boo hoo. Still on this boring topic. Look - let me hit you over the head with the facts. You know, those pesky facts. You, and by you, I mean the fine residents of the district, choose to move to a place of residence where you are taxed without representation. This is tyranny. And you choose it, most likely making tradeoffs. But you still made the choice. Choices have consequences. Accept the consequences. You don't like it, move. Seems like a simple enough solution. Because DC will never, ever have representation in the House or Senate. And you know it. So go back to your fake lives where you measure your own self worth by how many people you stepped over on your way to work, suckers. Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Posted by: biffgriff | December 11, 2008 7:47 AM

Mark, as an old bartender, let me tell you that there are two sides to this:

1. Side one: the bartenders and wait staff will make huge coin.
2. Side two: It will be a nightmare. Fights, arrests, injuries, maybe worse. Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. when people are getting bombed.

It'll happen; it won't be pretty.

Posted by: mdean3 | December 11, 2008 11:26 AM

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