Since May, Ilya Alter and Dmitri Chekaldin have faced unwavering resistance from U Street Corridor residents protesting their plan to open a second location of their Dacha Beer Garden at 14th and S streets, Northwest. Neighbors have posted “NO Dacha” signs in their yards and submitted an anti-Dacha petition at Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings this summer.
Residents fear that the new Dacha will bring noise, trash, reduced residential parking, public drunkenness, and other annoyances to the neighborhood. They weren’t mollified after Dacha owners revamped the design in July to enclose nearly two-thirds of the seating (including the side facing the residential S Street), and hired a sound engineering firm to ensure noise control. After all, they argue, the place was still designed to hold 600 people—drinking people—and proposed to stay open until the wee hours of the morning. And why, they wondered, did 14th Street need another beer garden directly across the street from the (more moderately sized) Garden District?
On Wednesday night, after an almost three-hour delay, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board held a protest hearing, allowing both sides to voice their arguments. The ABRA board will determine within 60 days whether to issue the new Dacha a liquor license and whether it should have to operate under any restrictions.
Dacha put forward four witnesses; the neighbors brought 20. Dacha lawyer Andrew Kline says he was surprised ABRA allowed that, considering the board’s preference for avoiding repetitive testimony.
Before the hearing began, Kline made a preliminary amendment to his client’s application: Although the original design advertised a summer garden seating 450 and a sidewalk café seating 150, the current plan (reflecting the mid-summer revamp) calls for indoor occupancy of 200, a summer garden of 250, and a sidewalk café of 150. Dacha’s decision to construct a building of substantial size was made, according to Kline, directly in response to area residents’ concerns about the noise.
Angry whispers greeted the proposal. “You can’t do that!” one hissed. “So, does that settle the case?” ABRA board chair Donovan Anderson jokingly asked. Only a few people laughed.
Although I wasn’t able to stay for the whole shebang—which lasted until almost 2 AM—I happened to sit next to one of the residents protesting the establishment, Whitney Fisler, a lawyer for the US Department of Health and Human Services. Her apartment on Swann Street, Northwest, is about 200 feet from the proposed Dacha. Fisler tells me she was initially excited about the news of Dacha’s new location, but says she was turned off by what she characterizes as the company’s history of noncompliance with liquor laws and the number of guests Dacha seeks to accommodate.
After providing me with a copy of her testimony, she handed me a printout of all the ABRA violations incurred by Dacha at its Shaw location—culminating in one of the liquor board’s largest fines ever—as well as a list of many police calls to the beer garden.
As the opening statements proceeded, she also passed over the written testimonies of other neighborhood residents, some detailing quite colorful complaints regarding interactions with drunk people—everything from verbal alterations to irreverent Uber drivers, and even pizza being smeared onto parked cars on S Street. The new Dacha, they argue unanimously, will only further increase the already high concentration of drunk people in the area, and all the problems that come along with them.
I reconnected with Kline Thursday morning to get his take on the rest of the proceedings. He tells me he was surprised by the number of out-of-hearing comments submitted by those opposed to the new Dacha—but even more so that they objected to similar commentary submitted by people who favor the project. “We brought forth almost 1,000 letters of support for the new beer garden during rebuttal,” Kline says, “and the protestant vehemently rejected that, which was comical considering they’d already turned this into a popularity contest.”