On Thursday June 18th the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) hosted a public meeting regarding the liquor license application for Level Lounge (315 H St NW). The meeting agenda also covered the imminent request by Muse Lounge (717 6th St NW) to extend their operating hours by 90 minutes to accommodate soft closings.
I would roughly estimate that the meeting had around 50 attendees. Among those present were the owners of Muse and Level, their lawyer Dimitri Mallios, executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Association Skip Coburn, Renee Childers from the MVT CID, 3 members of the DNA board including our discussion leader Miles Groves. Residents from the Cosmopolitan (adjacent to Muse), the Sonata, Madrigal Lofts, and Pathways housing (317 H St NW), and owner of Savvy Stereo (309 H Street NW) were also in attendance.
I recapped the Muse portion of the meeting yesterday
The applicant for Level, Pouya Yousefi, introduced himself to the attendees and briefly overviewed his concept during the first few minutes after he was given the floor. Much of what Yousefi shared echoed the information that has been included in this blog’s ongoing coverage of Level.
Yousefi began by describing Level as a third home (commonly referred to as a Third Place) and community anchor. [REACT: A Third Place would be a very cool outcome for the Triangle. However other widely accepted Third Places in the district (Tryst, Busboys, Open City, etc) all have CR-Restaurant liquor licenses.]
The specifics of the application were outlined – Level is seeking a Class C Tavern license with operating hours until 2AM on weeknights and 3AM on weekends. The stated occupancy limit is 299. The venue will be seeking an entertainment endorsement which will permit coverage charges.
First Floor: Ground floor. Where the neighbors gather for coffee, tea, Mediterranean sweets, ghalyoon, and drinks. Free wifi to surf the net and plenty of flat screens to cover all the world’s sports. Offered comparison to Hamilton’s Bar and Grill near the U.S. Capitol.
Second Floor: Mediterranean restaurant seating area with full executive kitchen. Dining hours would run until 10 or 11PM nightly.
Third Floor: Exclusive Member’s Only Lounge.
Fourth Floor: The owner’s private residence.
At this stage attorney Dimitri Mallios chimed in with disgust that the meeting was being held at all barked that the proceedings were a waste of time since the ANC 6C already expressed it’s intent to protest during a vote on June 8th. This was his snake like attempt to undermine the process of residents organizing. The meeting was very necessary. The resident community needs an experienced ally to guide it through the protest process and the Downtown Neighborhood Association is that resource. However for the DNA to have standing in the protest they needed to conduct a public meeting with ten days notice to engage residents. That is an ABRA requirement and there is no doubt that Mallios would have attempted to throw out the DNA as a protestant at the hearing had they not met this requirement.
After this distraction the meeting continued with questions and answers between the attendees and the applicant. Below are paraphrased elements of the discussion. Some of the questions and answers are composites of a more choppy back-and-forth between the applicant and audience. I did not take comprehensive notes so do not consider the below to be a full list of issues addressed.
A – We felt the rear fire escape was in a condition that made it a safety hazard. Our judgement was to take immediate action. In hindsight we should have collected the permits first.
Q – How is this not a night club?
A – Only the basement level will feature music. We will not charge cover charges or maintain guest lists for entry to Level. There will be no queue outside the venue. The entertainment endorsement is to allow the flexibility to occassionally charge covers (or accept donations) for certain entertainment events in the basement level.
Q – Why are you applying for a CT-Tavern license as opposed to a CR-Restaurant license?
A – The CR-restaurant license mandates that 45% of revenue be sourced from food sales. This is very restrictive. Four bars in the city have been closed down for failing to satisfy this requirement. Others, such as Cafe Saint Ex, have sought to change from the CR to the CT during license renewal. We would be agreeable to a CT-Tavern license with a food requirement governed by the voluntary agreement and set at 25%.
REACT – The proposed compromise of 25% is barely more than half of the CR-Restaurant requirement. I checked which way the wind was blowing after the meeting on this proposal and universally that figure was not well received.
Q – The alley is already congested by current users. Your property has no private space along the alley unlike the other properties. How will you ensure you will not infringe on the public space?
A – We will not park in the alley. Our security will do rounds of the alley and have cars towed. With regards to trash we have talked to Papa Johns and anticipate working out an arrangement to put our dumpsters on their space. Food deliveries will be only once a week or once every other week – we’ll bring the deliveries through the front door if we have to.
REACT – A little later in the meeting he said he also understood use of the alley for a valet parking stand will not be acceptable. These answers are appropriate to address our concerns if put in a voluntary agreement. However food deliveries every other week doesn’t sound realistic. That may demonstrate a lack of understanding of restaurant operations (but I’m no expert either).
Q – Can you explain how Hookah is allowed under the DC smoking ban?
A – The district does allow venues to apply for a tobacco exemption. Ozio has a cigar lounge and other venues in Adams Morgan feature Hookah. With the exemption both hookah and cigarettes could be smoked in a set aside area of the venue.
REACT – The Department of Health allows smoking exemptions for Tobacco bars. To qualify for the exemption the business must earn 10% of it’s total revenue from tobacco sales. FWIW, I think indoor smoking would not be conducive to creating a Third Place.
Q – Residents are concerned about potential noise from your venue? What assurances can you provide?
A – We’ll be replacing our current windows with double paned glass. Music will only be played in the basement level. The ground floor will only have TVs. The restaurant level and above will not feature music.
Q – Why does your venue need an occupancy limit of 299?
A – That is what we applied for when we anticipated using all five levels. However I now plan to live on the top floor and the 3rd floor is more of a private lounge.
Q – If your concept no longer requires 299 why not lower the occupancy?
A – Keeping it at 299 allows us flexibility.
Q – What are you plans for security?
A – I would contract out the security to one of several firms I have worked with in the past. In addition to providing security inside the club I would task them with keeping order in front of the property and in the alley. I will be living and working here. I’ll have a strong sense of the security issues and ensure they are addressed.
Q – What experience do you have running a bar or restaurant?
A – I’ve never run a restaurant. I’ve been going to clubs since I was 20 years old. I’ve known Frank (points to Frank Morello of Muse) for years.
REACT – While Pouya didn’t include this in his response – his resume includes event promotions at MCCXXIII (1223 Connecticut Ave). Numerous times, including when he gave me a tour of the building’s interior, he’s stated that operating a lounge is his area of expertise and that he only lacks of formal ownership experience.
The representative from Pathways housing spoke of nuisance issues she’s encountered as an immediately adjacent neighbor of this property. During the last several years, a period when the property was under ownership by Yousefi’s uncle, Pathways has incurred troubles from a chemical leak and a colony of rats sourced from 315 H Street. Pathways requests for action from the property owner were ignored. Resolution only came after complaints were filed with government agencies. Pouya replied that he’s only had the project for 3 months and should not be held responsible for actions from years ago. He claims he’s committed to being more responsive to issues under his watch.
Please discuss in the comments section.
Comments are now closed for this blog post. Constructive discussion has seemed to run it’s course. The only incoming comments still arriving in the moderation queue are attacking people not critiquing ideas. Pouya and I have both provided our emails. If you’d like to get involved rather than just rant anonymously contact us and we’ll tell you how.