Night Life in Mount Pleasant
might fairly ask, "what night life in Mount Pleasant?" In sharp contrast to the
active nighttime-entertainment neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and U
Street/Cardozo, quite nearby, Mount Pleasant goes quiet by early evening.
The Marx Cafe is
one of the few nightspots in Mount Pleasant, popular among young professionals
and college-age youths; or so I'm told, I'm much too old and stodgy for this
sort of thing. Marx offers recorded music, and a disk jockey, for evening
The name, by the way, stems from the original owner, Mark
Peters, who played up the Karl Marx implication ("revolutionary cuisine").
Recently the Cafe has been purchased by Aleks Duni, proprietor of Heller's
Bakery, and a Greek immigrant, so some changes may be on the way.
Don Juan's Restaurant is another Mount Pleasant night spot, especially popular among
Salvadoreans. Alberto Ferrufino, the proprietor of this restaurant and of Don
Juan's Carryout, likes to provide karaoke, which his clientele enjoy. This has
proven contentious, because certain nearby neighbors characterize karaoke as
"live music", and have objected. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board decided
that karaoke is "live entertainment", but not "live music", a rather subtle distinction.
Currently Alberto is seeking an "entertainment endorsement"
so that he can again offer karaoke. He was required to file for this endorsement
after the neighbors again complained about his karaoke, because Alberto's brother,
visiting from El Salvador, and a professional mariachi singer, sang the
karaoke a few nights. That, said the complaining neighbors, made it "live music",
and hence a "violation".
This is the Mount Pleasant Mariachi Band, which is allowed to perform out on Mount Pleasant
Street, but Mount Pleasant restaurant owners cannot engage them to perform inside their
restaurants. To my knowledge, only in Mount Pleasant is live music banned.
Why all this contentiousness over live music? It's not about loud music disturbing
the neighbors, because recorded music can be just as loud, and because there are legal
limits to how much sound can emanate from any establishment (not much, certainly not enough
to be troublesome, even to the nearest neighbors).
In truth, the prohibition against live music is based
on a fear that these restaurants would surreptitiously morph into night clubs,
drawing large and noisy crowds onto the street, far into the night. Basically,
live entertainment draws more customers, which the restaurant owners want, while
certain nearby neighbors want their streets quiet, and free of people talking or
reveling or otherwise causing disturbances far into the night. Currently the
author of the "live music" prohibition is extending that prohibition to include
both Don Juan's karaoke and the Marx Cafe's disk jockey.
I think, that we don't want the noisy late-night crowds that afflict Adams
Morgan. But we're very far from that, and with only a few small restaurants even
capable of offering entertainment, no significant crowds will ever come to Mount
Pleasant. No buildings here are suitable for the big night clubs that draw
crowds to the streets of Adams Morgan.
How do a few neighbors impose such draconian regulations on our restaurants? This is the infamous "voluntary
agreement" process, by which as few as five residents can impose their rules on
any alcohol-serving establishment, holding the liquor license hostage until the
business owner yields to their demands. That a handful of people can control this process
is clearly unfair to the thousands of residents who may disagree, wanting some entertainment possibilities close to home. Our restaurant
owners also have a rough time, because they get little lunchtime business,
and a single dinnertime seating won't cover their expenses.
The regulation imposed by a handful of neighbors is this, in its most recent
form: "Licensee shall permit no live music, DJ or live entertainment,
cover charges nor charges for admission to the establishment, and shall not
provide an atmosphere for dancing, or a dance floor for dancing, or permit the
moving of tables and chairs for the purpose of dancing."
In short, patrons are allowed only to eat quietly in restaurants, and must not sing or
dance. No fun allowed, not in Mount Pleasant!
I believe that we have to relax these regulations, so that Mount Pleasant
residents can find some evening entertainment in their own neighborhood, and our
restaurant owners can have a chance at making a living. I am currently
proposing that the business owners be allowed some live music and other
entertainment, with self-regulating mechanisms so that any problems that do crop
up can be quickly dealt with.
About "voluntary agreements"
July, 2006, the Mount Pleasant ANC passed a resolution
calling on the ABC Board to relax these stultifying conditions imposed on
Mount Pleasant restaurants by these "voluntary agreements".
As the time
for the renewal of Mount Pleasant's restaurant liquor licenses approached,
residents in support of live music founded a neighborhood organization dedicated
to that end:
Hear Mount Pleasant.
This group has done an outstanding job of collecting neighborhood sentiment in favor
of ending the MPNA's ban on live music in Mount Pleasant. The April, 2008 issue
of DC North has a well-balanced story on the live music
dispute, and the battle between the MPNA and Hear Mount Pleasant.
update: on February 13, 2008, the District's Alcohol Beverage Control Board held
an all-day hearing concerning entertainment endorsements, for live music, live
entertainment, dancing, and cover charges, for Haydee's and Don Jaime's
Restaurants. I spoke for the ANC
in this hearing, supporting a termination to the live-music ban, and permits for
live music, et cetera.
On April 23, 2008, the Board issued its decision:
live music returns to Mount Pleasant! A little bit, anyway;
just two restaurants, Haydee's and Don Jaime's, whose proprietors were brave enough to battle the anti-music crowd.
On July 30, 2008, the ABC Board issued its ruling concerning karaoke
and live music at Don Juan's. The restaurant has been given permission
to have karaoke (and dancing) into the early morning hours. Live music is
limited to "roaming mariachi bands", a restriction that has supporters of the
Despite these wins, the battle continues, as the
Mount Pleasant Neighbors Alliance continues to resist live music and
entertainment in Mount Pleasant restaurants. The Marx Cafe was unwilling to join
Haydee's and Don Jaime's in the big battle with the MPNA, attempting to
negotiate a new "voluntary agreement" on its own. The result is an agreement
with the usual battery of ridiculous restrictions.
Dateline March, 2011 -- amazing progress to report! Much to my astonishment, the
ABC Board ruled in favor of our entertainment-offering restaurants, and Hear
Mount Pleasant, and the ANC, terminating the MPNA voluntary
agreements with these restaurants. The MPNA fought to keep its VAs, objecting in
particular to the desires of the restaurants to have entertainment later into
the night, instead of being compelled to stop at midnight or 1:00 am. The Board
accepted the arguments by the ANC, and others, that if there was no harm to the
neighborhood by having entertainment to midnight, how could there be harm in
allowing entertainment for a couple of hours more?
On February 17, 2011, the Board granted the petition by Haydee's Restaurant to terminate its MPNA VA.
As of that date, "the Petitioner's hours of entertainment will now be from 11:00
am to 1:30 am, Sunday through Thursday, and 11:00 am to 2:30 am, Friday and
On February 23, 2011, the Board granted the petition by Don Jaime's Restaurant to terminate its
MPNA VA. As of that date, "the Petitioner's hours of entertainment will now be from 8:00 am
to 2:00 am, Monday through Thursday, and 8:00 am to 2:30 am, Friday and Saturday, and
10:00 am to 2:00 am on Sunday."
On March 23, 2011, the Board granted the petition by Don Juan's Restaurant to terminate its
MPNA VA. As of that date, "the Petitioner shall be permitted to offer all forms of entertainment
in accordance with the law" (the MPNA insisted that this restaurant be allowed only karaoke and
In each case, the voluntary agreements of these restaurants with Hear Mount Pleasant will continue,
providing adequate neighborhood control over potential disturbances. The restaurateurs are
content to continue with these VAs, because Hear Mount Pleasant endorses entertainment in
Mount Pleasant Restaurants, whereas the MPNA bitterly fought entertainment of any sort.
This has been, as the above shows, a very long struggle, and this success would not have been
possible without enormous amounts of free legal assistance from resident Mount Pleasant lawyers
who believed that the neighborhood would benefit from having entertainment in our restaurants.
This is not, and has never been, about what's good for the restaurateurs. It's been about what's good for
Mount Pleasant, and what residents of Mount Pleasant want.
But what a struggle it has been.
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This page last updated March 29, 2011