Since 2001, the regulation of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the District has been controlled by the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, a seven-member regulatory body of city government. ABRA issues licenses to all types of sellers of alcohol in the city, monitors compliance with city law, and has the power to issue new regulations related to the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. According to statistics on their website ABRA keeps up a brisk business: in fiscal year 2006 they issued 1,254 licenses and permits to sell alcohol and conducted 2,255 inspections.
The agency’s meetings are also the primary battleground between sellers of alcohol and the opponents of alcohol sales. Ranging from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, Condo Associations, churches, and other citizen groups (in most cases property owners), these group’s complaints can include noisy bars, loitering, liquor stores selling drug paraphernalia, and a host of others. After receiving complaints ABRA encourages the complainants and the licensee to attempt to negotiate detailed Cooperative Agreements which become legally enforceable conditions of the liquor license. These agreements can contain passages requiring no loitering signs, instructing the liquor store to call police if they see people loitering, restrictions on pay telephones, restricting the percentage of window space that can be covered by advertisements, and even passages regarding “upgrading of merchandise” requiring the selling of “quality wines in corked bottles … milk, juice, fresh bakery bread and bagels …”
In response to vigorous neighborhood activism opposing virtually all types of alcohol sale ABRA has issued complete moratoriums for new licenses in five zones in the city including Adams Morgan, Georgetown, Glover Park, and two in Dupont Circle. In these areas no new licenses can be issued, effectively placing a cap on the number and type of bars, restaurants, and clubs able to sell alcohol. Think about this the next time you find yourself in an overcrowded Adams Morgan, Georgetown, or Dupont Circle bar.
In order to better understand the geography of alcohol in the city I have created a series of maps illustrating the locations and types of liquor licenses in the city utilizing city GIS data. These maps show most bars and restaurants in the city are clustered downtown and on major thoroughfares in upper northwest, and northeast and southeast washington have very few restaurants with liquor licenses. I have also made a map for the Shaw/Logan Circle neighborhood. In addition to the maps visible here, I created this map of central DC. If anyone is curious what other neighborhoods look like in more detail please leave a comment and I will consider creating more maps.