It was a controversial meeting about a space that is meant to be conflict-free.
On Thursday evening, community members spent over 3 hours chatting about the As You Are Bar (AYA), proposed for the site of the former Soul Food District (500 Eighth St. SE).
More than 120 people attended on January 6, the largest turnout President Brian Ready said he saw at a meeting of the Neighborhood Advisory Board (ANC) Alcoholic Beverage Advisory Committee (ABC) 6B.
Nonetheless, the committee decided to postpone the decision whether or not to support the license until a meeting of the entire ANC, scheduled for Tuesday, January 11, in the hope of reaching a settlement agreement (SA) – a agreement between the applicant and the community on operating conditions – before.
A welcoming space
AYA founders Jo McDaniel and Rach âCoachâ Pike, formerly of A League of Her Own, says the space is designed to be welcoming not only to the LGBTQ community, but to everyone. âWe want people to present themselves exactly as they are and how they identify with themselves,â Pike said in a previous interview.
The two have already signed the lease. Plans call for the downstairs to be home to a casual restaurant / cafe / lounge, with an open kitchen until proposed closing at 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. On the second level, they plan a dance floor for those 18 and over with a DJ booth for shows on Friday and Saturday nights as well as community events.
Discussion that ignites
Attendees flocked from across the district as well as the ANC to support AYA at the virtual meeting. But the discussion heated up, especially in the chat, with accusations of prejudice, intimidation and personal insults.
“I wish I could send you all to a different neighborhood,” a resident told supporters, responding to a chat comment that an elderly resident could solve noise issues by removing hearing aids.
Neighbors’ concerns about noise and congregation on the street at night were mainly related to two things: AYA’s plans for a dance floor open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, coupled with an experience. previous with the operators on site.
âYou are asking the people who live here and have to deal with it on a daily basis to have a lot of confidence in you,â a participant told Pike and McDaniel.
Pike and McDaniel are already working As you are as a virtual queer community hub, hosting events for LGBTQIA + clients and allies, including speed dating, quiz nights, happy hours, dance parties, and youth events. Both have over 20 years of industry experience; they met while working at Adams Morgan’s A League of Her Own, where McDaniel was in charge of operations and Pike was in charge of security.
In an interview ahead of the meeting, the pair said they plan to learn from the experience and implement their comprehensive vision of a space that prioritizes safety and consent and enables the self-expression and connection.
At the ABC meeting, Pike and McDaniel described the work they themselves were doing to attenuate the sound, in consultation with the sound engineers. These efforts include three-layer sound-absorbing inserts in the windows along E Street; soundproofing panels on the ceilings and walls of the two floors, the stairwell and the wall shared with the neighboring company Trattoria Alberto.
Soundproof blinds will be installed in the windows along Eighth Street; bass traps, suspended from the ceiling to capture lower tones; aA custom soundproof 3-layer ceiling-to-floor wall hanging is to be hung along the walls of Eighth and E Street as well as the stairwell, with the specific purpose of protecting the property at 807 E Street .SE.
A culture of safety and consent
Pike pointed out that the culture at AYA Bar is one of safety and consent, noting that the LGBTQ community has limited places to safely gather and therefore take care of the places they have. All AYA staff will be trained in the district’s alcohol awareness program, Pike said, not just bartenders as required by law.
The 3 a.m. closing time will allow AYA to perform a staggered closure on Fridays and Saturdays, cutting the music an hour before to encourage departure and allowing a dripping out rather than a flood of customers. Security management will be on the outside to handle departures and noise, and will be trained to monitor any non-consensual, disrespectful or threatening behavior, Pike said.
âOur clients come to the establishments managed by Jo and I because they want that level of security,â said Pike. âThe assumption that these customers would come here looking for it and then go to the surrounding neighborhood without extending the same level of respect is unfounded and illogical. “
Supporters attested to the experience of the founders of AYA, noting that Pike and McDaniel are extremely well known in the national LGBT community, testifying before Congress and appearing in the documentary “The Lesbian Bar Project”. Residents from Capitol Hill and across the district came to the meeting to talk about the need for such a space in the community and in the district, as well as their confidence in the ability of the founders of AYA to implement their vision.
Hannah Stokes, who lives in Seventh and G Streest SE, acknowledged concerns about noise and safety, but said she believed Pike and McDaniel were taking the appropriate steps to address them. Noting that she works with young gay men, Stokes said it was essential that young people had a place to go to do their homework and build community, especially when the home might not be a safe space for them.
Identifying himself as a resident of 6B04, the SMD where AYA would be located, Sean said he supports the plans “100%.” This is exactly what I am looking for in space. He challenged the skepticism surrounding the mitigation efforts, noting that AYA was working with experts. âThey’ve shown incredible foresight in alleviating sound and security issues,â he wrote in the chat, âand they will create a desperately needed queer space for SE and the great DC as a whole. “
Countering references to the unruly behavior of former patrons, Laura Pelner, a resident of Ward 1, said the LGBTQ community does not view bars as a place to get drunk, but as a space to be themselves and make connections. âWe are different from anyone who has entered these spaces,â she said. âWe want a community and a space that thinks about the well-being of everyone. “
But residents living closest to the building expressed doubts, explicitly citing experiences with former tenants. A man said he has lived 250 feet from the building since 1972. “All residents nearby are hostile to this, including me, because I don’t want to be woken up by their bosses, “Pope Barrow told Commissioners,” and I don’t want to have to put up with the fights, arguments and love affairs over the street that continues – we have had this, along with all the other establishments that have been to this location.
Others said it was the nightclub concept, the dance floor open until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, that was really at issue. E Street resident Matt Jones said sound was a major concern, but also said the app was “a bit unprecedented.” There has never been a tavern license on the site, he argued, nor any establishment open to guests 18 and over until 3 a.m.
One thing the ANC needs to consider, said regional commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg (6B04), is that a tavern license can be sold with a business. Whatever trust the community has in the founders of AYA, the terms of an SA must be applicable to another operator who may not operate with the same good faith, she said.
At Thursday’s meeting, AYA’s representation declined to postpone the licensing decision to February to allow time for sound mitigation efforts to be installed and tested. âIt’s a small business. Waiting another month to open while paying rent and not generating income is unfortunately not an economic reality for them, âsaid Richard Bianco, AYA strategist.
Ultimately, the committee agreed to work with AYA on the SA over the weekend, deferring the vote until the Tuesday Jan. 11 meeting of the full committee. At that time, ANC 6B will vote on the license, choosing to argue with a signed SA, asking the applicant to defer or protest the license. The ABC’s goal is to include specific details on mitigation efforts and security management as well as closing and entertainment hours on weekends.
Join the full ANC 6B meeting on Tuesday January 11 at 7 p.m. via webex. get full meeting details here. Send your views to ANC 6B by email: [emailÂ protected]