DC Mayor Just Proposed a Change That Could Loosen Up Public Drinking Rules

New legislation would allow people to walk around with alcoholic beverages in certain commercial developments.

Photo by Evy Mages

The Virginia and Maryland suburbs have both loosened laws in the pandemic to allow locals to enjoy a bottle of wine or a pouched cocktail in certain parks or outdoor shopping centers. At last, DC is looking to get in on the action. Yesterday, Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced legislation to the DC Council to create a “commercial lifestyle license” that would allow for certain zones where people could walk around with and consume alcohol.

The proposed license would be limited to pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use commercial developments on private property—think places like the Wharf, Georgetown’s Washington Harbour, or CityCenterDC. The drinking zones would be required to have security and signs to help enforce the rules within the designated perimeter. So, it’s not quite a New Orleans-style free-for-all.

The “Reopen Washington, DC Alcohol Act” also proposes a flurry of other liquor law changes aimed at “removing hurdles for businesses and providing new ways to bring in revenue,” according to a statement from Bowser. For starters, it would allow bars and restaurants to continue operating approved “steateries” throughout this year at no cost. (For 2022 and 2023, there will be a registration fee of $100 to operate from May through October.)

The proposed legislation would also eliminate the moratorium on tavern licenses in Georgetown (currently capped at six), allow restaurants to offer doggie bags for spirits (for now only half-empty bottle of wine can be packed to go), and create a new license for companies that deliver alcohol, among other changes.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.