Prominent Georgetown bar still faces protest over noise

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Georgetown’s Smith Point tavern, which is now up for sale, achieved prominence in its early years as a favorite of D.C.’s party circuit for young affluent conservatives — and a frequent target for derision. Complex, a New York-based pop-culture magazine, ranked it No. 3 in a listing of D.C.’s “25 Douchiest Bars.”

But for residents living near the 1337 Wisconsin Ave. NW establishment, the problems are more typical of nightlife establishments located close to residential areas. They say Smith Point allows noisy patrons to use its rear patio space, and the resulting ruckus is heard in the single-family homes along N and O streets.

Accordingly, even though owner Bo Blair decided in January to try selling the business, there’s a community effort to protest the renewal of its alcohol license, or at least change its terms. Any modification to the liquor license — such as reducing hours for the outdoor space — would also apply to a future proprietor.

The protest is still winding its way through the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board process. A scheduled May 10 hearing was moved to June 21 to allow Smith Point more time to gather evidence. In the meantime, Blair and his attorney Andrew Kline offered to consider curtailing outdoor hours — closing the rear patio at 10 p.m. — for as long as Blair owns Smith Point.

“We’re not sure there needs to be any reason for the protest to continue at this point,” Kline said. “You’re better off to deal with … the eventual purchaser of the business, not the person who’s on his way out.”

Kline was unsuccessful, though, at convincing Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) to drop its objections to the license renewal. ANC 2E had unanimously agreed to the protest in November, and residents at its May 1 meeting urged commissioners to maintain course. “I would rather settle this now than have to come back and deal with a separate operator with the same issues,” an N Street neighbor said at the meeting.

ANC 2E member Lisa Palmer said she supported Smith Point’s proposed compromise, rather than pushing for a license change amid efforts to sell the business.

“I’m not comfortable with interfering with a business transaction in that format,” said Palmer. “I think we have to deal with what we have going on today and not guess at what might be in the future.”

The N Street resident said there’s an inherent issue with outdoor spaces serving alcohol so close to houses. He played commissioners a recording that he made last year of revelers in Smith Point’s rear patio. “All the neighbors have had a very difficult time with the noise,” he said.

Blair defended his establishment’s atmosphere. “Many similar scenes occur at bars across the country,” he said.

Another resident countered that the noise level may be acceptable in some locations, but not so close to residences. “Disneyland is appropriate where it is,” she said.

Smith Point has faced repeated penalties for operational infractions. It paid $850 earlier this month to settle a noise complaint from last June, and was fined $5,750 in April for a case last spring involving a DJ and cover charge without necessary entertainment approvals. Other recent fines have included $2,750 over a March 2015 noise complaint and $500 for using outdoor seating areas that hadn’t yet been licensed.

ANC 2E and a group of individual neighbors are all scheduled to participate in next month’s protest hearing. The alcohol board can decide, based on the evidence presented in the hearing, to add restrictions to Smith Point’s license or not renew it altogether.