Mood Lounge’s Liquor License Suspended “Indefinitely” — UPDATED

This photograph (taken by my ANC 2F-06 colleague Mike Benardo) is one of the most beautiful–and surprising–images I have seen in a long time.

By way of background, Mood Lounge took over the liquor license of a former bar at the same location, along with the accompanying voluntary agreement (VA) almost one year ago.

Under DC law, ANCs and–in some cases–groups of citizens can negotiate VAs that provide additional protections for neighborhoods, such as operating hours that are more compatible with residences in the immediate vicinity.  (ANC 2F generally doesn’t seek voluntary agreements with licensees in the central business district.)

Within a few weeks of Mood’s opening, the complaints came flooding in at a volume (literally) and level of seriousness that no current ANC 2F commissioner could recall previously during our various years of service.  There was the noise, greatly in excess of what was permitted under the voluntary agreement and DC law, essentially every night that Mood was open, often until at least 3 a.m., and then even later when boisterous patrons spilled onto the streets and loitered long after closing time.  (From this came public bodily emanations of many kinds, and even one incident of sex on the hood of a car.) Emails poured in from sleepless residents, often with time stamps around 4 or 5 a.m., detailing the BOOM BOOM BOOM of the bass levels, items literally shaking in their homes from the decibels.

(There had been a couple of issues with the previous licensee, BeBar, but they were reportedly resolved quickly.)

This happened with Swiss timepiece-like precision and predictability when Mood was open.  Management was almost entirely unresponsive to complaints, and on the small number of occasions they did respond, conditions rapidly degenerated.

Infractions were not limited to noise: vermin, trash, almost every provision of the VA possible.  Mood was transforming itself from a CT licensee (tavern) into a de facto CN licensee (nightclub).  Furthermore, Mood was operating on an improperly issued certificate of occupancy.  This may be an arcane issue to some, but Mood was essentially occupying fully one-third more square feet than they were entitled to.

Fights regularly broke out in front of the establishment.  And then, in the early morning hours this past Friday, the coup de grace: a double stabbing after a fight broke out inside the lounge. Neighbors knew it was a matter of when, not if, assault with deadly weapons would occur–as it turns out, barely one month after I last blogged about this.  And they even feared fatalities like the one that occurred recently at Heritage India.

Neighbors, government officials and others have felt stymied by a bureaucracy that seemed incapable of responding adequately.  The first “show cause hearing” for a Mood violation didn’t even occur until a few weeks ago, and even more are in the offing, including yet another VA breach the ANC voted on last month.  The ABC Board has 90 days to issue a ruling in what is inarguably an open-and-shut case, yet we were told by those familiar with the process to expect it to take most if not all of those 90 days.

Even worse, despite the incessant noise and other violations, each infraction was being treated discretely.  It seemed an impossible task to portray to the District the full dimensions of the problem, which spanned not only months on the calendar and various sections of the VA, but also multiple agencies of DC government.  “Second-tier violations,” such as noise, could be penalized as little as $250, and it takes four of those to reach the status of a “primary violation.”  It reminded me of Dwight Schrute’s disciplinary system, wherein five “citations” equal one “violation,” four of which lead to a “verbal warning,” etc.

The Metropolitan Police Department (props to Sgt. David Terestre, and also to Chief Lanier for getting involved), Jack Evans, the mayor’s office, this ANC, ABRA and others were already ratcheting up the pressure before last Friday.  After the violence occurred, MPD used emergency powers it has to shut Mood down for 96 hours–and over the New Year’s Day weekend, it was going to send a clear and balance sheet-affecting message.

And then today, up went the sign in Mike’s photo above.  Mood is closed “indefinitely.”  For just about everyone besides Mood’s owners and patrons, we hope that also means “permanently.”

I have to commend the affeced residents for their tenacity–which is understandable, of course, when your restfulness and mental health are at stake.  They documented their complaints.  They went through the proper channels, as frustrating as those channels often were.  By and large, they maintained a high level of civility.  And they went out of their way to work constructively with Mood to bring it into line with its obligations.  But one by one, Mood lost all of their allies and any goodwill the neighborhood had left.

And they have no one but themselves to blame.

UPDATE: In the middle of writing this post, I received from the mayor’s office the ABC Board’s “notice of summary suspension.”  In short, Mood has 72 hours to request a hearing, the ABC Board then has 48 hours to conduct the hearing, and 24 more hours to issue its decision.

In the document, Chief Lanier states that “the continued operation of the licensed establishment presents an imminent danger to the health and safety of the public” and that “there would be an additional imminent danger to the health and welfare of the public if the establishment was not closed, and that there is no other immediately available measure that would ameliorate the threat to public safety.”

Among the more shocking findings, no one from Mood called the police to report the stabbings, and that “the establishment made several attempts to hinder [ABRA’s] investigation.”  Read the full paragraph regarding those “attempts.”  It would be laughable if it weren’t so outrageous.

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