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Level Lounge Voluntary Agreement

After several months of negotiations and four rounds of mediation a voluntary agreement has been signed by the applicant from Level Lounge (315 H Street NW) and the protest group. The agreement was signed by the applicant (Pouya Yousefi), ANC 6C and the Downtown Neighborhood Association. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) Board of Directors ratified the agreement shortly thereafter.

Negotiations turned the corner when Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells wrote a position letter stating that he could not support the application until core concerns of residents were addressed. That same month ANC 6C approved an independent sound study to craft recommendations designed to ensure maximum sound abatement during the buildout of the space. After the findings from the study were presented the applicant agreed to all terms in the drafted voluntary agreement.

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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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Level Lounge Public Meeting Reminder

From DNA president Miles Groves:

The DNA has a public meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 18 starting at 7:30PM at Madrigal Lofts. We expect the owners of the proposed Levels Tavern to attend to discuss their concept and answer questions. The address of this Tavern is 315 H Street NW, near the corner of 4th and H Streets. The Madrigal Lofts condominiums are located on the corner of 4th and I Streets, NW at 811 4th Street NW. This is an especially important meeting for residents in buildings along Massachusetts Avenue or in the Triangle section of Downtown.

At the conclusion of this meeting, the Downtown Neighborhood Association board will vote on whether to protest their Tavern liquor license application.

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Proposed levels for Level Lounge ** UPDATED**

The website (www.leveldc.com) for Level Lounge should have content later this week with details on the venues concept.


My understanding is that currently the proposed uses for each floor of Level will be roughly as follows:

Basement: Lounge with live music
First Floor: Bar with seating, televisions, billiards
Second Floor: Kitchen in rear, front 2/3 will be restaurant seating
Third Floor: VIP area
Fourth Floor: Owner’s residence

The kitchen and the owner residence are modifications from the original vision shared at the ANC 6C ABL committee meeting.


UPDATE (6/16/2009 12:30AM): LEVELDC.COM has been updated tonight and paints a picture of the plans for the floors of the venue with greater detail than the broad strokes I originally posted:
Basement: Subterranean. Urban lounge with a very intimate look and feel offering a variety of my favorite music and artists. From spoken word to ethnic world music, I hope to host a variety of artists that are conducive to the chill vibe that I want my venue to be known for.
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.
Second Floor: Mediterranean restaurant seating area with full executive kitchen. Check back when our final site is up learn more about our amazing menu including what is and how to use a “deezee”.
Third Floor: Exclusive Member’s Only Lounge. This will be my private living room where only special guests are welcome.
Fourth Floor: My home. This will be my primary residence. As such, living in a neighborhood where I am respected and appreciated will play a pivotal part in how I operate my business.

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Interior photos of Level Lounge shell

Sunday evening I was provided a brief tour of the shell of the future home of Level Lounge (315 H Street NW). Each of the four above grade floors has roughly the same 2200 floorplate. Below are a few interior photos from the building.

looking towards front windows

looking towards rear of building

windows along the west wall

windows along the east wall

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Level Lounge discussion

The liquor license application for 315 H Street NW we’ve been tracking since May 26th is now being referred to as Levels Tavern Level Lounge. The below writeup attempts to outline all the information I know both from my sources and the discussion with the applicant at the June 2nd ANC 6C ABL committee meeting. The ABL meeting was attended by the committee members (minus Anne Phelps), ANC commissioners Keith Silver and Charley Docter, DNA president Miles Groves, MVT CID Executive Director Bill McLeod and two Madrigal Lofts residents.

Property
The four-story brick structure, located at at 315 H Street NW, is situated between a women’s shelter on the left and Papa Johns to the right. The building has a narrow frontage on H Street but runs deep all the way to the back of the property line to provide 11,000 square feet of space across five levels. In it’s past life this handsome structure with it’s detailed facade was an apartment building called the Jefferson – a name which is still inscribed above the ground level entrance today.

Front of 315 H Street NW

While I could not track down the last year the property has been in active use it predates the last time the deed changed hands. The DC Recorder of Deeds states that the property was sold from the estate of Demetrios Tsintolas to Maryam Fathi on 6/4/2002 for $490,000. The proposed 2010 Assessment for the property is $1,114,110. Recently the property has had a commercial listing on Loopnet without a formal asking price.

A photo I discovered from 2006 showed the building had windows blocked off by masonry and boards. Since that time improvements have been made to the structure – most notably new black windows. The applicant states the building could still be another year from being completely built out as an elevator is added and the interior is gutted and redesigned.

Applicant

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Closeup look at alley behind 300 block of H Street NW

I attended last night’s ANC6C ABL committee meeting in which the applicant (Pouya Yousefi) for the new proposed tavern at 315 H Street NW explained his concept and fielded questions. I will recap that discussion in a later posting – but I first wanted to lay a little more ground work to convey the alley setup to all readers.

This flickr photo set visually represents the alley behind the 300 block of H Street NW that is shared by the commercial uses, the Second Baptist Church, and the Madrigal Lofts and Sonata condominiums. I thought conveying this representation was important because while many area residents are familiar with the location of Tunnel and Papa Johns – only residents of Madrigal and Sonata are intimately familiar with the alley. (Note: once viewing in Flickr roll over the pictures with to see notes that explain exactly which building is which.)

Click thumbnail image to visit flickr photo set

This alley is already an extremely high use alley with residents of two high-rises condos traveling through to access the garage egresses to roughly 350 underground parking spaces. Papa Johns delivery drivers also make heavy use of the alley. A new use of this large scope that will attract more employees, deliveries, trash pickups and up to 299 patrons to the block would need to be carefully and respectfully integrated. Residents deserve to know the applicant has a plan to manage their share of the alley use and a voluntary agreement to codify that plan into enforceable expectations.

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New Tavern at 315 H St NW to attend tonight’s ABL meeting

The applicant for the new CT (Tavern) liquor license at 315 H Street NW will attend tonight’s ANC6C Alcohol Beverage Licensing (ABL) committee meeting. The meeting begins at 7pm at the School Without Walls (215 G Street NE).

Tonight will be our first chance to hear the applicant expand upon this description:

New Tavern with Middle Eastern food and pastries. Hookah Bar, DJ, occasional live bands (maximum 3 pieces), singers, dancing but no designated dance floor. Cover Charge. Occupancy Load 299.

Image from Loopnet

Later this month the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) will conduct a special forum allowing residents to express their concerns. The forum will be announced with the required 10 day lead time to have standing should a protest letter need to be filed. I will relay the When/Where of this meeting as I learn it.

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New Tavern application at 315 H St NW ** UPDATED **

UPDATE [5/26/2009 2:45PM]: I’ve updated the photo and included the Loopnet commercial listing for this property which describes it as “Approximately 11,000 Square Feet on 5 levels including a Full high ceiling basement. Exposed brick and open SOHO – Like loft space on every level affording great flexiblity for build out.


A new CT (Tavern) liquor license application has been initiated for the vacant four story “Jefferson” building next to Papa Johns at 315 H Street NW.

Click to Enlarge; Left: 2006 photo from Kyle Walton; Right: 2009 Photo from Loopnet

License Class: Retail Class “C” Tavern
Address: 315 H Street, NW

WARD 6 ANC 6C SMD 6C01
Notice is hereby given that this applicant has applied for a license under the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Act and that the objectors are entitled to be heard before the granting of such license on the hearing date at 10:00 am, 7th Floor, Suite 7200, 941 North Capitol Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002. Petition and/or request to appear before the Board must be filed on or before the petition date.

NATURE OF OPERATION
New Tavern with Middle Eastern food and pastries. Hookah Bar, DJ, occasional live bands (maximum 3 pieces), singers, dancing but no designated dance floor. Cover Charge. Occupancy Load 299.

HOURS OF OPERATION
Sunday through Thursday 11 am – 2 am
Friday through Saturday, 11 am – 3 am

HOURS OF SALES OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES
Sunday through Thursday 11 am – 2 am
Friday through Saturday, 11 am – 3am

HOURS OF OPERATION FOR ENTERTAINMENT
Sunday through Thursday 6 pm – 2 am
Friday through Saturday 6 pm – 3 am

The ANC6C Alcohol Beverage Licensing Committee (ABL) will be inviting this applicant to attend a June 2nd meeting (7pm) at the School Without Walls (215 G Street NE).

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