The District of Columbia plans to suspend a burger joint's liquor license because it has been refusing to check its customers' vaccination papers.
In a closed executive session yesterday, the city's Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board voted to refer the restaurant, known as The Big Board, to D.C.'s Office of the Attorney General to draft a summary suspension notice. That's the first step in suspending a liquor license.
The DC Office of Attorney General (@AGKarlRacine) still may need to draft & issue a notice, to be signed by the Board chair, and then served on the bar before the suspension is effected.
— Barred in DC (@BarredinDC) January 27, 2022
Under a public health order issued by Mayor Muriel Bowser, patrons of restaurants and bars had to have at least one shot in order to dine inside after January 15. (Come February 15, they'll need to be fully vaccinated.) The Big Board issued a tweet on January 13 that implied it would not be enforcing the order: "As has always been the case for us, everyone is welcome. This rule applies yesterday, today and tomorrow. Hopefully we'll see you January 16th."
In addition to checking for proof of vaccination, businesses must also display signs explaining the new restrictions. The city also requires staff and customers to wear masks.
The Big Board had already received several warnings from the city about its staff not wearing masks, according to D.C.'s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).
On January 18, ABRA fined the business $1,000 for having unmasked staffers. It received another $1,000 fine two days later for failing to check customers' vaccination status.
On January 22, the restaurant's case was referred to the ABC Board. According to an ABRA case report, one of the agency's inspectors visited the business at around 9 p.m. that night, where he found a number of violations, including staff not wearing masks and not checking customers' vaccination status.
Both city police and the director of the Mayor's Office of Nightlife and Culture also visited the bar that night and talked with its owner, Eric Flannery. Earlier that day, The Big Board tweeted that nothing had changed and "all are welcome." (I have reached out to both The Big Board and Flannery for comment but have received no reply.)
The restaurant's struggles with the city over its vaccine mandate have earned it a passionate crowd of supporters. The day after it was issued its first fine, Daily Caller reporter Henry Rodgers launched a GoFundMe to support the bar. So far, it has raised $15,000. People have claimed on Twitter that the business has had a rush of supportive customers too, with lines stretching out the door.
I patronized the restaurant myself the weekend that the city's vaccine mandate went into effect. Despite all the controversy, the experience of actually eating there was unremarkable: I walked in, an unmasked waiter directed me to a table, I ordered, I ate, and I left. The only time someone asked me for identification was when I ordered a beer. Similar scenes play out across the vast majority of the country every day, where governments haven't opted to make vaccination a requirement of going out in public.
Many other D.C. businesses are quietly ignoring, or only half-heartedly enforcing, Bowser's vaccine order. (Miraculously, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the city continues to collapse.)
The difference here is that The Big Board drew attention to its noncompliance and is being punished for it.
DCist reports that the city's Attorney General will draft a suspension order for Big Board's liquor license, which will then be signed by the chair of the ABC Board and then served to the business. The Big Board can request a hearing on its suspension, which could happen sometime next week.