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Recap of DNA ABL Public Meeting – Level

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

LEVEL LOUNGE
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.

The applicant shared his concept for each level of the venue which can also be found on his website (www.leveldc.com).

Basement: Subterranean. Urban lounge with a very intimate look and feel offering a variety of my favorite music and artists. Offered comparison to ANDALU in Dupont Circle.

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.

Q – Please explain the Stop Work Order.
AWe 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?
AOnly 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?
AThe 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?
AWe 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?
AThe 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?
AWe’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?
AThat 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?
AKeeping it at 299 allows us flexibility.

Q – What are you plans for security?
AI 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?
AI’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.

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Comments

  1. 1

    IMGoph says

    it's becoming really, really clear that you're quite opposed to level's proposed opening.

    that's your prerogative, sure, but since you've written so much about the need for life and activity in the triangle to push out the dangerous and unseemly element, this seems to run counter to your usual arguments. why the (barely hidden) vitriol?

  2. 2

    fourthandeye says

    @IMGoph – You brush with wide strokes don't you? My position is more nuanced than that. I'm pushing for a better outcome.

    To achieve a better outcome we need a voluntary agreement. For ABRA to require the applicant to mediate we need a strong protest.

    If I were instead pushing a developer not to tear down a rowhouse or DDOT for pedestrian improvements you'd love it. Those are entities you accept residents holding to a high standard. Yet you've made it really, really clear that you're quite opposed to residents steering liquor licensed establishments towards being better neighbors. The only time you comment on this blog are the liquor license threads.

  3. 3

    fourthandeye says

    For the record, while I am the most visibly on the record regarding Level that's only because I have a blog and am committed to sharing information. In actuality among those engaging in activism at Madrigal & Sonata I represent a very moderate position.

  4. 4

    IMGoph says

    i only tend to comment on threads where i feel the need to debate issues. most of what you write about, i agree with, so i tend to read, nod my head in approval, and move on.

    in this instance, i'm opposed. i tend to believe in giving business a first chance to prove themselves. i'm not a fan of "voluntary agreements" (the name is so orwellian). we can just agree to disagree on that point.

  5. 5

    Anonymous says

    echo IMGoph that your multiple posts regarding LEVEL are full of skepticism and the stance that no good will come of this business; while seemingly at odds with the overall of your general posts wanting more life and vibrancy to MVT. In some of your posts you've mentioned this building many many many years ago being a residential building- and suggesting it should then now be condos- as if there are not enough empty condos in MVT…
    That said like your blog:)

  6. 6

    fourthandeye says

    I absolutely never said this building should be condos. You've misinterpretted or misremembered something.

  7. 7

    fourthandeye says

    There are in fact many commercial uses I would support. Restaurant with a CR-Restaurant ABC license is one that the MVTCID, DNA and ANC commissioners all are trying to steer the applicant towards. I would also support that. As for more creative compromises the residents are collectively discussing that now. I have a few priorities I will advocate for with that resident protest group – but ultimately the positions born from that collective will not 100% reflect my own. I tend to believe they will be a little more strict.

  8. 8

    Anonymous says

    A little skepticism is not a bad thing. Most of 4th's editorializing surrounds the mixed messages. This concept lacks focus. A four floor 8000+ sqft bar is too ambitious for an ownership group with zero experience. They need to reign the concept in and simplify.

  9. 9

    Anonymous says

    Except that this guy is the one putting up the capital and willing to invest in a business in MVT now. It appears he has been engaging with the appropriate parties (they are shots from a tour on here); he's taken & responded to questions; he's amended/ scaled back his concept; music in the basement; he says he won't make your alley any more of a cluster than it already is.

    If some group or the DNA are able to strong arm him to open a business he did not want in more of a restaurant concept and it fails because many new restaurants do, or because its in still shady MVT lacking foot traffic, or the condo owners don't like the food– he has to take the loss. DNA is not going to say my bad and make him whole.

    If he opens his business as he has described and agrees and addresses the concerns of noise & this alley or whatever else (as he has appeared to try to do) what does the matter of whether or not we think he's experienced enough etc have to do with anything. Its is dollar

  10. 11

    washingtonydc says

    I've found the blog's postings on Levels to be fair–any skepticism or criticism has been posted in a constructive manner. (Never once did I see any post advocating for the building to be converted to condos.)

    As I've said before, I hope that this establishment is successful and thrives in our neighborhood. While the concept isn't necessarily directed toward me (I loathe the idea of VIP lounges), it doesn't need to be. The establishment can't be all things to all people, so I hope the proprietor finds whatever is successful for him while being a responsible neighbor.

    But if the kitchen (which I'm glad they're including on site) can serve up some tasty kataifi or beryani, I'll certainly be visiting.

  11. 12

    Anonymous says

    Lipstick on a pig.

    You can call it a third home or a beauty salon- a place that hsa live music, that does not serve food and has a VIP room is a nightclub.

    That space is NOT appropriate for a nightclub.

    I don't care what verbal statement he makes now, the alley will be a nightmare, it will be noisy and there will be 30 people standing outside smoking until 3am.

  12. 13

    IMGoph says

    ok, most recent anonymous poster, i'll take your statement at face value. this place isn't appropriate for a nightclub.

    in the interest of working towards a positive outcome, and talking things through, would you let us know what kind of a place/location/building is appropriate for a nightclub?

  13. 15

    Anonymous says

    What amazes me is that a building directly on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city is deemed "unsuitable for a nightclub." This building was here a hell of long time before those snazzy condos that surround it. You're lucky this dude's uncle didn't show up at the PUD petition to object to the very building you now live. I know you think that because it affects you directly, you can tell someone else what to do, but that's not exactly how cities work. Never has been, never will be. You have a say, but you're living, for all intents and purposes, in a downtown. Along a major, noisy road. And you're worried about a single nightlife establishment? I know it's cliche by now, but no less true- if you wanted total peace and quiet, why the hell are you living here? Just to let some of you know… other building will go up around your condo. It could block out the sun. Your parking spots could be taken. Bars and restaurants will open open on the ground floor (most likely). If you're worried about a small bar, then you probably have a lot more to worry about in the future. end rant

  14. 16

    Vishal says

    i really don't understand why people put such a big fight when it comes to developing and revitalizing locations that are of no productivity or use. Restaurants are great businesses to create the trendy neighborhood that madrigallofts tried to offer. Just because a location plays music does not mean it is a nightclub. lounges are designed to be casual locations that offer envinronments in which to converse, vibe with others, set a mood for the interior with background music, and get food or drinks. nightclubs are places that pack in the people on a large dancefloor with the main focus being drinks and loud music. in my opinion, nightclubs are on the decline in DC, whereas casual lounges are the new thing.

    My question is, what is the main concern of the residence and why are they opposed to the establishment of level lounge in their neighborhood? i for one am very excited and looking forward to patronize this place

  15. 17

    Vishal says

    @fourthandeye

    so it sounds to me like the biggest objection to the project was the use of alley, correct? with the explanation that they won't be running a vip stand, and will actually be vigilant about the use of alleyway, and that their dumpsters would be stored on the papa johns lot, doesn't that address the concern the residents have?

  16. 18

    R&A says

    I'm not sure how productive it is to attack people on the blog. There are some serious issues at stake that deserve to be debated.

    In general, I think investment in the area is a good thing. It beats empty buildings. And legitimate business foot-traffic beats hustlers, drug-dealers and prostitutes.

    The building Level will be in pre-dates the new condos, so it would seem to me that Level has the right to complain if the condo residents use the alleys too much, not the other way around. If new development around old alleys doesn't take into account future use of pre-existing buildings, that's their bad. Suck it up.

    Whether it is a nightclub or a restaurant or a Third Place or some combination of these, the above two points apply.

    It is also relevant, I think, that this proposed development is on Mass Ave right downtown, a block from an interstate highway. One has to expect noise…from firetrucks and cars and people, if nothing else.

    And I have to give good props to the owner who plans to live in the building. If true, this is a huge plus (as far as I'm concerned) and it means he'll take seriously the issues of security, traffic, and noise.

    In short: don't protest too much. We don't want to put out a message that MVT is opposed to development. And if this proposal is shot down or modified against his will, that is the message other potential businessmen will take away. And in a developing neighborhood like this one, we should try to welcome investment not scare it away.

  17. 19

    Sonata says

    I was there and I can tell you that fourthandeye's account is very level-headed (pun intended) and unbiased. He downplays the situation with the work that commenced without permits; Mr. Yousefi basically disavows himself of any responsibility. So, he's willing to design his own vision for the venue and attempt to execute it through the generous patronage of his uncle – but not to accept responsiblity for his uncle's mismanagement as owner? That does not bode well for how he will comport himself when future problems arise – people who park in the alley and block garage access will not be his problem, how can he be held responsible for clubgoers who get into loud fights outside the club at 3am, and so on. Given that he has not prior experience, we have no choice but to judge him on these small incidents and on the way that he spoke and presented himself at the meeting (which was less than persuasive to many). Like some of the comments I've read here, Mr. Yousefi took it upon himself to characterize who should be living in this neighborhood — people who like excitement and late nights and loud noise. Some of us characterize ourselves differently: as people who would rather have short commutes than more square footage, who prefer easy access to museums and the arts than to shopping malls. We want to see a business succeed in this space while living harmoniously with our neighbors. But if Mr. Yousefi has already so narrowly typecast the kind of residents who should be living here, and if those are the only residents with whom he wishes to work, it creates a wide gulf between us that will be difficult to navigate.

  18. 20

    fourthandeye says

    @Vishal – I appreciate your feedback. Alley use was my biggest concern before hearing the concept for the first time on June 2nd. After the concept was presented more concerns have arisen both from the mixed messages within the concept and consultation of the community leaders who have been through all this before.

    There are also other viewpoints in the community such as the Sonata comment from 20:43.

    Please feel free to email me to continue the discussion. It sounds as though you genuinely want to gain a greater understanding.

  19. 21

    fourthandeye says

    R&A – you have a very weak grasp of the alley issue. All other properties have private space along the alley. Space within their property line they elected not to erect structures on so they would have room for dumpsters, loading dock and garage egress, etc… These properties only use the public space in the alley which connects 3rd to 4th streets for through traffic. That's what the public space is for.

    The Level building;s rear wall, and it's basement door patio, extend fully to the edge of their property line leaving no private space for dumpsters, parking, etc… That's their burden to bear or in your parlance to 'suck it up'. To his credit Yousefi has taken this feedback and begun to plan resolutions.

  20. 22

    Sean says

    The whole bit about scaring away investment is an irrelevant scare tactic. Our community has supported every new business that has announced intentions to arrive. We love our Busboys, Buddha Bar has enormous buzz, and I am most looking forward to Boisdale.

    Level is the first business that has people concerned. Suggesting we should not express our concerns because it would scare away investment is analogous to telling a woman if she doesn't put out she'll get a reputation for being stuck up. I call shenanigans.

  21. 23

    Vishal says

    @fourthandeye
    thanks, the only way to get an acceptable conclusion is to understand the opposing viewpoint and find an amicable solution. From what I understand of the other non-alley concerns, it sounds to me that it's more geared to the success of a business by it's operation than the impact it would have on the community.

    @sean
    it seems to me that all the other businesses you listed as examples of welcomed development are all chain restaurants, whereas level would be something unique, created and started by one of DC's own. This is exactly what we need to add character to our city, as opposed to the cookie cutter districts that are anchored by corporate chains (think pf changs, amc theatres, unos pizzeria, carrabas, outback etc…)

  22. 24

    fourthandeye says

    @Vishal – that's not an accurate characterization to suggest residents are focusing on judging the potential operational success of the establishment rather than the impact. Resident clearly are concerned about the impact a venue with these hours and occupancy (299) would have on the community. The Sonata comment demonstrates that.

    You are welcome to contact me via email for a fuller discussion. My contact info is on the root home page of the site.

  23. 25

    Anonymous says

    The alley is a non-issue. Levels has responded to these concerns. They will not use the alley; Papa John's will work something out with them on the dumpster; they will have security monitor and tow cars in the alley. Where has Levels said anything other? Move on from this as the crutch for disapproving the new business.

    There is not going to be a third place or base on a busy traffic section of Mass Ave to the on ramp to 395 and having no foot traffic. Its in between a homeless shelter, a liqueur store & a Papa John's. That's not much of a draw. To suggest a copy of a Tryst or Busboys or some other would fail.

    This is NIMBY-ism in the city to be sure.

    This is the appropriate venue/ location for a bar/ nightclub.

    No comrade– we will allow you to open a restaurant or a restaurant or perhaps a restaurant– and here is the pre-approved menu

  24. 26

    fourthandeye says

    I have conceded Pouya has offered solutions for the alley issues. Many thanks to him. I'm only addressing the misrepresentation of the alley issues in the comments. People have said incorrect and ignorant things and I've corrected them.

    As for the Third Place issue… again people are misinterpreting this. Pouya pitched his venue as a Third Place – that wasn't my fabrication. He's on more than one occasion described it as a Third Home. I am only pointing that it doesn't add up. Suggesting that a Third Place would fail because it is next to a shelter or a highway is debatable. But you should realize your statement does not discredit me but rather the vision Pouya pitched.

  25. 27

    Sonata says

    Anonymous 11:23 –

    None of us have ever had a problem with the "homeless shelter." But we have a problem with the proposal that has been put forth, the lack of experience of the owner, and recent past acts that show a disregard for the community (specifically, for the shelter). Is that what you call NIMBY-ism? Sort of the opposite, actually — find me one objection to the shelter in our neighborhood. They are good neighbors, and that's what we're looking for in a new neighbor.

  26. 28

    Anonymous says

    BS definition of NIMBY – if this guy was opening a bar/ nightclub not literally right next door to Sonata etc but a few blocks away in some other building would anyone in these new condos care enough to protest this business then? Also please describe the non-existent community that the building owner neglected a few years ago.

  27. 29

    dcPYro says

    Dear Sonata.
    If by lack of experience you mean owning a lounge, then yes you are correct. If on the other hand you mean operating, staffing, planning, hosting, marketing, running, and hiring for an establishment such as the one I plan to start, please contact me at dcpyro@gmail.com and I will gladly forward you references as well as a detailed history of over a decade of service industry experience.

  28. 30

    fourthandeye says

    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.