D.C. Office & Commission on Nightlife

In Hospitality by Richard Bianco

The City Council introduced legislation enabling the creation of the Office & Commission on Nightlife (B-22-508). I put the link to the proposed legislation right upfront this time because I realize that what follows might be described as a light rant about how a Commission on Nightlife would not be necessary to advise the Mayor, if the Mayor actually appointed industry representatives to the ABC Board that regulates much of the dusk til’ dawn economy.

For years I have been complaining to anyone willing to that it is unfair and inefficient to have an ABC Board comprised exclusively of community members, with no industry stake, or required expertise in business, alcoholic beverage regulation, administrative law or procedure.

Many, if not all of the other DC licensing bodies are populated with actual licensees in addition to “consumer” or “public” members.

Bar & restaurant owners find themselves, quite literally, without a seat at the table, in the decision making process. Without a voice in the regulation of their business, laws are passed, amended and new regulations adopted without meaningful input from the industry professionals who are “on-the-ground.”

Sure, there are interest groups, and the Agency makes efforts to solicit comments and ideas from the “Beer Bar” (the group of lawyers who generally represent licensed establishments). Even the occasional politically adept owner manages to get the ear of a Council-member, or figures out how to get on a list to testify at a Council Hearing (usually as witness #165 of 167). That is all well and good, however, that is not meaningful input. It is not the same as having industry representatives, who have their nose in it every day, in the room where the decisions are actually made.

Until businesses who sell and serve alcoholic beverages are actually afforded the status of a respected profession, instead of being viewed with the ages-old stigma of booze peddling scofflaws, that is unlikely to happen.

In an action that I am 100% sure has nothing to do with the G-rated version of my familiar rant reproduced above, the Council has proposed legislation to create a “Commission on Nightlife” and a related but separate body within the Mayor’s Office known as the “Office of Nightlife,” intended to bring the industry into the legislative and regulatory fold, as it were.

The legislation provides nine (9) powers and duties for the Mayorially appointed Director of the “Office,” and without listing all of them, it seems the position is limited to gathering information, serving as a “liaison” between establishments and regulatory agencies, promoting relations with the community (and ANC’s) and reporting to the Mayor on whatever the Director of the Office finds.

The “Commission,” is to consist of five (5) members, only one of whom will be a bar or restaurant owner (holder of an “on-premises retail license”). The Commission’s statutory mandate is to “examine” seven factors which the Council feels impacts the after-hours economy. Again, without listing all of them, the factors to be studied are items like the “regulatory structure,” “common complaints,” and “enforcement” rules and laws.

So there you have it, the governmental playbook for avoiding issues that may result in political hot water. Appoint government equivalents to mall “rent-a-cops” to “examine,” “liaise,” and “report.” A truly D.C. response.

The solution to the existing problems is simple and free. Alter the composition of the ABC Board to actually include stakeholders, including those to be appointed to the “Commission” in the proposed legislation. Simple. Direct. Common sense. A very un-D.C. response.