When Dacha announced plans to build a beer garden on 14th Street in 2017, it unleashed one of the fiercest neighborhood liquor license battles in years. Nearby residents, fearful of noise and drunks urinating in the yards, posted “NO Dacha” signs across their lawns. “‘You will never open your fucking beer garden here, over my dead body,'” owner Dmitri Chekaldin recalls one neighbor telling him. Dacha made numerous concessions, including plans to spend $3 million on more enclosed space and a sound engineer, but ultimately Chekaldin says the opposition “murdered” the venture.
Now a new group—Aslin Beer Company—is planning to bring a beer garden to the same lot at the corner 14th and S streets Northwest, just across the street from Garden District beer garden.
“We feel that what we’re proposing is something that’s slightly different and a little bit scaled down from what Dacha proposed,” says Aslin Beer Company co-founder Andrew Kelley. “I’m trying to look at this as a blank slate for us.”
The brewery, which has beer gardens and taprooms in Herndon and Alexandria, had been looking for a DC outpost for nearly three years. Kelley says the team was attracted to the “unique” space (currently a parking lot) on a hot dining corridor. Their proposal is to maintain the current footprint of the property and convert an existing garage into a bar with up to 24 taps, plus retail and beer shop. The outdoor space will be filled with Adirondack-style chairs and picnic tables with room for a food truck to park. As a nod to the many body shops and car dealerships that once occupied the neighborhood, the beer garden will have a bit of a gas station motif. They’ll call it Aslin Filing Station.
Aslin is actively working to avoid oppositional yard signs and has hired design firm //3877 to help mitigate trash and noise issues. For starters, the space will be enclosed in a seven-foot wood and metal wall with the main entrance on 14th Street. Plants and trees will further help absorb sound. Trash enclosures and plenty of on-site trash cans aim to prevent litter from becoming an issue.
Aslin is aiming for an occupancy of about 300. Dacha had initially proposed room for 600 people but eventually conceded to about half as many. They’re also not looking to be a late-night spot and would aim to close by 11 PM or midnight.
“We don’t want to disturb the neighbors,” says //3387 co-founder David Shove-Brown.
Kelley says his team met for the first time last week with members of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which the Alcoholic Beverage Control board gives “great weight” in determining the conditions of the liquor license (such as operating hours and capacity). They’re hoping they’ll be able to move things along fast enough to open in time for Oktoberfest.
One advantage: Aslin doesn’t carry quite the same baggage that Dacha did. In 2015, the liquor board levied one of its largest fines ever against Dacha’s Shaw beer garden and suspended its liquor license after the business repeatedly packed the space over capacity. Aslin has made a point to note that it hasn’t had any issues or noise complaints from neighbors at its other locations.
While opponents used Dacha’s past record as fuel to object to the beer garden’s plans, Chekladin says he received “thousands” of support petitions. “Everyone who voiced their support basically was over-shouted by these screaming NIMBYs,” he says.
At the end of a bitter back and forth, ABRA issued Dacha a license that allowed 40 people outdoors with al fresco operations cut off at 11 PM. (Indoor operations were less restrictive.) “It was a typical ‘we did not kill you, but we killed you,'” Chekaldin says. “It would not make any financial sense to sign that agreement that requires you to build a $3 million building—potentially more—and then put your bets on 40 people outside. That’s not even the concept.” He says the company lost $200,000 on the beer garden that never happened.
Chekaldin says he hasn’t spoken at length with the owners of Aslin about their plans, but he’s a big fan and he’s rooting for them. (The brewery is currently making an exclusive beer for Dacha, which will soon be on the menu.) Chekaldin also happens to live in the neighborhood and says he plans to attend all the ANC meetings as a private citizen.
“I will be watching very closely,” he says.