Patio Politics

Jack's faces overcrowding charge for 2007 High Heel Race

As the maxim has it, when it rains, it pours. Alan Goodwill and Latif Guler, the owners of Jack’s Restaurant and Bar, would likely tell you that the same holds when it comes to the local bureaucracy.

Guler says he applied May 5 for a ”one day substantial change” to Jack’s liquor license, allowing the venue to accommodate extra patio patrons during the Capital Pride Parade, which will pass in front of Jack’s June 14. On May 7, Guler signed a ”cooperative agreement,” as part of seeking a liquor-license renewal, between Jack’s, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA), the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and independent residents’ groups. The same day, Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board Chairperson Peter B. Feather was signing off on a ”notice of status hearing and show cause hearing” for Jack’s, set for June 26 and July 17, respectively, to examine a charge that the restaurant’s patio exceeded its licensed capacity, 28 patrons, on Oct. 30, the evening of the annual High Heel Race.

”We had two guards to make sure no one left with a drink, to check IDs,” says Guler, adding that he and Goodwill, his partner, have owned the venue for about two years. ”We have table service, but what happens at one point is it just gets impossible with people standing to watch the parade or the race.”

As far as Goodwill and Guler know, they’re also the only venue to have been cited for High Heel Race overcrowding, a time when this stretch of 17th Street from Church to Q Streets, roughly, is standing room only.

According to the charge, ”At approximately 7:16 p.m. [the ABC investigator] returned to the establishment and counted approximately 60 patrons on the sidewalk café. [The investigator's] photograph shows approximately 58-60 patrons on the sidewalk café, at least 30-32 patrons over the Certificate of Occupancy.”

Goodwill and Guler maintain that they’ve done their best to keep order and follow the law, but that it would take a about a dozen police officers guarding their patio rail to insulate the space from the High Heel Race chaos.

When it comes to High Heel Race order, Dave Perruzza, general manager of JR.’s gay bar at 1519 17th St. NW and the de facto facilitator of this 21-year-old annual tradition that is officially sponsored by no one, knows the rules. He knows the ins and outs of the ”one day substantial change” permits, knows his neighbors, knows the ABC Board and knows which hoops to jump through to allow JR.’s adjacent beer tent during the race. But while he says that the licensing protocols involved with pulling off the High Heel Race or the Capital Pride Parade — gay-themed events that essentially close down this stretch of 17th Street, one of the District’s most gay-identified neighborhoods — are not overwhelming, he grants that the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), of which the ABC Board is part, appeared to be taking a greater-than-usual interest in the last High Heel Race.

”This is the first time we’ve ever had a problem,” says Perruzza. ”They actually gave us a hard time at the beer tent, which they’d never done before. They were much stricter [in 2007]. This is the first time I’ve seen them around for the High Heel Race.”

While this stretch of 17th Street is recognized for its gay identity, it is also recognized as an area that has seen contention between its businesses — gay-owned or otherwise — and residents — also gay or otherwise. For example, in Jack’s May 7 ”cooperative agreement,” also known as a ”voluntary agreement,” 27 individuals signed-on as protestants to the renewal. That’s in addition to ANC 2B and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA).

In hammering out the agreement, which is awaiting expected approval from the ABC Board, Guler says, ”The DCCA and the ANC were awesome. It was just difficult to resolve some issues with the neighbors.”

Without hesitation, Joel Lawson, who is gay and recently became DCCA president, grants that the mood between businesses and residents in this neighborhood has been contentious.

”There’s a lot of bad blood on 17th Street between businesses and residents,” says Lawson, adding that he has not fielded any complaints about Jack’s. ”I’m determined to bring people together. We have to bring cooperative voices together. It’s my No. 1 priority. ”

In the end, he says he hopes that rather than some troubling, empty storefronts, his work for DCCA will ensure a ”fun and thriving 17th Street.”

Mark Lee, whose Atlas Events produces the gay-oriented Lizard Lounge parties and who is recognized as perhaps the District’s most engaged nightlife proponent, has been speaking with Goodwill and Guler about the High Heel charge, which he says is endemic to a system that greatly favors even the most frivolous complaints by residents against legitimate businesses.

”The current system is built on the premise that every business is guilty until proven otherwise,” Lee says, adding that while Lawson’s outreach to the business community is encouraging, what’s at stake is a matter of policy, not personality.

”Roving bands of neighborhood dictators can have veto power over the regulations that affect these small businesses, essentially changing the law.”

The local Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) has publicly stated a position not too far from Lee’s, suggesting that ABRA record the names of people who file complaints against venues, rather than the purely anonymous system that exists now.

”Persons with a record of frequent complaints not sustained by the evidence should have their subsequent complaints flagged as suspicious, should receive a warning, and should be fined if their abuse of the system continues,” reads a GLAA statement from 2005, in part, which is posted on the group’s Web site.

In the meantime, Goodwill and Guler say they cannot help but feel persecuted.

”I want to say ‘discrimination,’ because obviously someone hates us,” Goodwill says matter-of-factly, pointing to a 90-day period between April and June 2007, when, he says, Jack’s was inspected by ABRA on 60 occasions, leading to charges of overcrowding aside from the High Heel Race charge. Goodwill says that of the few times an inspector spotted the capacity limit being breached, it was never by more than five people. Neither Goodwill nor Guler says he has any idea who may be calling in the complaints that initiate inspections.

While Metro Weekly was unable to secure an official comment from ABRA by deadline, Guler insists he and Goodwill have been making every attempt to toe the ABRA line.

”I’m getting the idea that they’re picking on us, first because we’re gay, second because we have accents,” says Guler, a native of Turkey. ”I am a man of the rules. We have all these rules, but we’re following them. We do everything by the book.”

Ultimately, that will be up to the ABC Board to decide sometime this summer. Guler says he and Goodwill will be contesting the High Heel Race charge at the June 26 hearing, which will automatically continue the case to a ”show cause hearing” Thursday, July 17, at 1:30 p.m. before the board.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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