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Lengthy NW bar feud nears end
(Published December 3, 2001)
By JENNIFER GINGRAS
Special to The Common Denominator
Bartender Larry Hradisky serves a customer at the Round Table Restaurant in Northwest Washington.
When Foad Shirazi, part owner of the Round Table Restaurant and Bar in Tenleytown, filed to renew his liquor license in the spring of 2000, he thought it was just a formality.
He was wrong.
Local residents appealed to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) to prevent the renewal, starting a hearing process that is still going on more than a year later. A final hearing is scheduled before the ABC Board at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at 941 North Capitol St. NE.
The neighborhood’s grievances are clearly described in written complaints to the ABC, and at least one disruptive incident was caught on videotape. The restaurant, at 4859 Wisconsin Ave. NW, fronts on a busy thoroughfare but is next door to single-family homes.
"The behavior of the bar customers definitely disturbs the peace of the community," said Jill Diskan, who chairs Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E and represents the area around Round Table. "They fornicate, they vomit, they slam doors…at two or three o’clock in the morning."
But not all of the restaurant’s neighbors oppose its late operation. Iqpal Singh, who lives next to the Round Table, testified on behalf of his neighbor in a mediation hearing on Aug. 8. Members of the community had approached him to support their cause, he said, but he told them no.
"I said I thought the Round Table had a right to be in the neighborhood and exist," Singh said. Singh testified that he had heard Round Table employees directing bar patrons to park their cars away from the residences and later picking up any outside trash after the bar closed.
Originally, the ANC had a voluntary agreement with Round Table to minimize disturbances in the area. Shirazi lowered the volume of the music, added a doorman and still tries to keep patrons from parking on the residential streets instead of in the parking lot.
"Unfortunately, we were naïve," Diskan said of the agreement. The remedies the ANC outlined sound rational on paper, she said, but have little practical effect.
Shirazi said he is hurt by the way the community is dealing with the problem. "It’s an unfair situation," he said. "At this point, we’re guilty until proven innocent."
Caroline Lawrence, who lives a block away from the restaurant on Ellicott Street, has documented the disturbances and filed several of the complaints that led to the hearings. "None of us have ever made this a personal attack," Lawrence said.
In the August hearing, Shirazi accused Lawrence of telling his brother, another part owner, to "go back to where you came from," something Lawrence said she would never even think, much less say to someone. She moved to the area because of the diversity, she said.
"I don’t know why he would say such a thing," she added.
Diskan, who lives about five blocks from the Round Table, said complaining neighbors "want them to act like a restaurant, not a bar." Both women maintain that they have no problem with the restaurant, which closes at 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
One compromise they’ve offered is to have the bar close when the restaurant closes, but Shirazi said competing bars in the area are not being asked to close earlier. Lawrence called this argument a red herring, since the other establishments are farther away from residential streets.
Shirazi and Larry Hradisky, a full-time bartender for Round Table, maintain that the ANC has no case against the bar. In 15 years, Shirazi said, he’s never been cited for permitting under-age drinking, and he once received a letter from a police officer praising the Round Table staff for refusing to serve under-age undercover operatives.
"There have been one or two incidents, but those are the exceptions," Hradisky said. Call reports from the Metropolitan Police Department show 10 incidents in 1998 and six in 1999, some of which were never directly linked to Round Table.
"Police are called regularly, but by the time they get there, the problem is already gone," Diskan said.
Over the last year, Shirazi said, he’s spent about $15,000 in legal fees to prove that Round Table is not a public nuisance.
"For a small, family-owned business, that’s a lot of money," he said.
Shirazi said his research shows property values in the area have gone up. Listings of the houses sold over the last few years show that 75 percent of them were sold for at least the asking price. "I saw one ad that said, ‘close to night life,’ and that house sold in no time," he said. He added that he couldn’t see how a selling point could also be a public nuisance.
Shirazi said he is disappointed in the ANC. When he tried to call Diskan to resolve the problem, he said she didn’t return his calls. Diskan said she was out of town when he called and called him back as soon as she returned.
The ABC will conclude this matter after the final hearing this month.
"I’m betting on us," Hradisky said. "Our customers are mostly local people who want to walk to their favorite bar, have a drink and go home. One of these guys has been coming in here for 30 years. We’ll come through it."
Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator