Wednesday, December 24, 2008

D.C. Bars and Nightclubs Offered little wiggle room in bar hours

D.C. Bars and Nightclubs Offered little wiggle room in bar hours
The District's decision to extend last-call for bars and nightclubs during the inauguration week has its limits, officials said yesterday: Those businesses that have struck agreements in the past with neighborhood groups over hours and rules must honor them.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Attorney General Peter Nickles announced that these "voluntary agreements," some of which go back 20 years, will remain enforceable, covering about 345 of the 1,027 establishments across the city. Many, but not all, of the agreements preclude the sale of alcohol after 2 a.m. on weekdays and after 3 a.m. on weekends.

The announcement was a victory for neighborhood activists who expressed concern about noise, disorderly conduct and other problems if the rules were not enforced.
The decision came three days after the D.C. Council formally approved legislation to allow bars and nightclubs to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. from Jan. 17 through 21.
The council initially planned to extend the hours until 5 a.m. but backed off amid criticism from some inaugural planners on Capitol Hill.

The 4 a.m. hour matches the extension that is typically granted for New Year's Eve. The usual cutoff hours are 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.
"We have also been very sensitive and cooperative and supportive of the business community who wants to be able to welcome the many people who are coming to the District of Columbia to help celebrate the magnificent occasion that is the presidential inauguration," Fenty (D) said at an afternoon news conference.Nickles said the question was whether the council's legislation affected the voluntary agreements. The conclusion was no.

"These agreements are in my view contracts," Nickles said. "As contracts, they are entitled to the protection of the Constitution, which protects the sanctity of contracts, and the council cannot affect their enforceability. So, those establishments that have voluntary agreements will have to abide by the restrictions in those voluntary agreements."
Those establishments without agreements, or whose agreements do not contain alcohol sale restrictions, must preregister with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. during the inauguration period. Registration forms will be available Monday, a board official said.

By Michael E. RuaneWashington Post Staff Writer