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That 4 A.M. Inauguration Nightcap? Not So Fast

Maybe you're thinking it might be kind of fun to be trapped on Inauguration Island one night next week. Maybe you figure that if you're stuck in town because of the Blockade of Virginia or the paralyzed Metro system or your boss's demand that you sleep on the office floor, everything will be just fine because hey, those wonderful folks at the D.C. Council decided to keep the liquor flowing till 4 a.m.

Think again.

Despite the weeks of back and forth and the not-so-quiet grumbling from the police about how the politicians were going to mess everything up by turning the town into a pre-dawn convention of sloshed Obamamaniacs, the fact is that this is still the District of Columbia. So even if a bar or restaurant wanted to take advantage of the extended hours and stay open all night, serving drinks straight through to 4 in the morning, the bureaucratic hurdles facing businesses seeking that special license are so maddeningly high that not many bars are going down that road.

And those establishments that are adding hours for inauguration night owls are worried about security because the off-duty police officers they usually hire to keep things cool are all unavailable--assigned to round-the-clock shifts as part of the all hands on deck approach that D.C. police have developed for the long Inauguration weekend.

By last week's deadline, just over 200 establishments had filed seeking extended hours licenses. Another 73 expressed an interest in doing so, but first would have to win approval from the neighborhood groups that have forced them into "voluntary" agreements limiting their hours and entertainment offerings. (Very cool map of the bars going for the extra hour here, courtesy of blogger Capital Spice. And Going Out Gurus' list of the 88 places that the District has already approved is here.)

With rare exceptions, those neighborhood groups are refusing to budge from their insistence that bars adhere to sometimes onerously strict rules.

Skip Coburn, executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Association, who has been in close touch with dozens of his group's 212 members, says far more bars would have applied for the later hours if the city hadn't required them to "jump through all these ridiculous hoops."

To gain permission to stay open later during Inauguration week, a business had to write and submit a public safety plan, pay $250 a day for the five-day period (for nightclubs; fees are $100 for restaurants), and show that they are free of any of the hours or entertainment restrictions imposed on them through "voluntary" agreements.

"It's kind of a nice thought," Coburn says. "We want people to view D.C. as a lively, happening place that they'd like to come back to or bring their convention to. But just passing a law doesn't make it happen. Most of these venues have these involuntary voluntary agreements with neighborhood protesters that hold them to ridiculous standards."

"To go through this whole licensing process for one extra hour of sales is just not worth it to most places," Coburn says.

Coburn says the city failed to work out a plan that would allow clubs and bars to offer entertainment during the extended hours.

Perhaps counterintuitively, many nightlife business owners worry that the District's zeal to offer a friendly, lively face to the world during the inauguration celebration will result in a sea of drunken revelers that sends entirely the wrong message about what Washington offers visitors.

The biggest worry among nightclub owners is security. Since every uniformed officer in the region will be working extended shifts throughout the inauguration period, the usual off-duty officers will not be available to do their regular moonlighting as security officers at clubs and bars. "Clubs usually have overtime police officers there with lights flashing to bring down the testosterone levels outside the clubs," Coburn says. "Now you're going to have people out even later at night, who've had even more to drink and aren't even from here, and we're not going to have any of our police overtime officers."

But D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier tells me that although clubs and bars won't be able to hire off-duty police, the officers will nonetheless be assigned to patrol in the District's entertainment neighborhoods. "They'll be working for me, not for the bars, but they will be out there," Lanier says.

And in addition to the city's own 4,000 officers, another 4,000 are being borrowed from law enforcement agencies all around the region and nation, and they are available as well, should things get a little dicey.

Still, the Nightlife Association is concerned that what was intended as a gift to their business may turn out to be what Coburn calls "a threat to the industry."

Are we having fun yet?

By Marc Fisher |  January 14, 2009; 8:10 AM ET
Previous: Inauguration: The Million Things We Don't Know March | Next: Welcome To D.C., Mr. Obama--Here's Where To Visit

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Aw, come on. This is an Obama celebration ... there will be no drunken violence!

Posted by: justhere | January 14, 2009 9:10 AM

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