July 9, 2015 at 10:44 am EDT | by Mark Lee
Gay-owned Dacha Beer Garden battles license protest
nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

Dacha Beer Garden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Business popularity poses unique challenges, but nothing like obstacles to conducting commerce in D.C. One innovative local enterprise faces the burden of both.

That’s what Ilya Alter and Dmitri Chekaldin, co-owners of third-season Dacha Beer Garden and chef-enhanced eatery in the developing Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington, have discovered. Alter often hears comparisons between the Soviet bureaucracy of his and Chekaldin’s childhood and the byzantine and bewildering business licensing process in the District.

Most of the eye-rolling in the neighborhood, however, is due the endless loop of regulatory hurdles the duo have faced battling a cadre of cranks opposing emerging amenities welcomed by the many. It’s the local lore for which the city has become notorious and perplexes Shaw residents who have witnessed neighborhood vitality diminished elsewhere by similar obstinacy.

Since transforming a paved-over chain-link fenced vacant lot eyesore known for drug dealing by opening an attractive and inviting summer garden space in September 2013 at the corner of 7th and Q streets, the two learned doing business in D.C. isn’t easy or encouraged. They fended off skepticism from wary observers who thought the still-shabby Shaw area a tough spot for success.

What surprised them was immediate neighborhood patronage beginning opening day. The outpouring of community support wasn’t prompted by advertising, Alter recalls, noting the initial lack of even a website. Now they have an online petition to counter the few, but vocal, objectors complaining about the venue’s popularity and what they argue is “all about the ‘N’ word: noise.”

The problem for license protesters, besides being outside mainstream opinion, is Dacha has never been cited for violating the city’s low-threshold noise ordinance. Sound engineers who have surveyed the site and adjacent alley also found full compliance.

Dacha has, however, been cited for having too many customers comfortably ensconced within the decorative wrought-iron fencing and garden plantings of the commercially zoned corner lot.

That is what most upsets advisory neighborhood rep Alex Padro, who opposes the venue’s application to update total seated-and-standing capacity based on the higher allotment of an upwardly revised permanent certificate of occupancy. The owners also plan investing $2 million to construct an adjoining three-level building for a full-service restaurant, also increasing occupancy.

Alter and Chekaldin, MBA graduates in corporate jobs, decided to “think outside the box” in contributing a community asset and creating new careers. That required the same of city agencies, as the then-novel operating model wasn’t an option to check on government forms.

Classifying the concept and determining initial space-based usage took months of discussions with city agencies and proved difficult from the get-go. Now a mind-numbing serial-issued array of both differing occupancy and licensing numbers is a point of contention with a small “citizens group” and advisory neighborhood commissioners in ANC sector 6E.

They have targeted a business that waived standard operating hours when applying for a liquor license to alleviate nighttime noise concerns. Open only until 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, no music or amplified sound is offered. Yet what Alter characterizes as a handful mostly a city block away claim unacceptable conversational noise.

Padro, spearheading the fight, complains about daytime noise on weekend afternoons. Residents either scratch or shake their heads.

Dacha supporters live nearby, even across the street, and hundreds of Shaw residents have petitioned for greater allowed occupancy. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will consider the application this summer – along with an ANC protest if they back Padro, and the protesting citizens association.

D.C. residents clamor for roof-deck bars, sidewalk patios and outdoor venues that fill up as quickly as hospitality businesses create them. Demand for outdoor spaces to socialize soars in a densely populated urban environment.

Instead of allowing licensing revisions to languish for months or be rejected due only objection by a few, city officials should streamline the process and consider prevailing opinion.

So far, D.C. has failed to do both.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

  • I’m both a neighbor and supporter of Dacha, however, you left out that the opposition is due to Dacha requesting an occupancy of 600, up from the current 112. Though most of that occupancy is for the adjacent building, it still seems like a very high occupancy request.

    • Curious is there a separate occupancy for the beer garden and the restaurant- inside and outside space? I would assume there would be. We need to make it easier for restaurants to understand what the law is and then if they are within the law to make it much harder for a few local residents to put obstacles in their way,

    • Dacha’s application is for 600 of which:
      1. 250 Inside
      2. 350 Outside

      With hours remaining the same for Outside and 2am for the Inside only,

      Alex Padro Voted to protest
      Kevin Chapple Voted to protest
      Frank Wiggins Voted to protest

      Rachelle Nigro Voted to support
      Marge Maceda Voted to support

      Alfreda Judd Abstained

      Antonio Barnes (the new 6E06 Commissioner) Absent

  • Padro has a long history in Shaw and is widely known for being pro-business and development, even to the point of some accusing him of conflict due to his position as ED for Shaw Mainstreets.
    It would have been nice to print a few quotes from him about his reasoning.
    Generally, this article is long on snark and insinuation and short on facts.

    • You can go in and watch the video of the meeting when it becomes available. There will be a lot more coming out about two-hat wearing Commissioner Padro. For example his total OK with allowing Uptown club to extend their hours to 3AM and let them play amplified music. Uptown pays into Shaw Main Streets – an organization that employs Mr. Padro.

  • DC’s ANCs have provided little caesars the opportunity to take their class president role and exercise real power with real money. This is all done for altruistic goals of course. Noise, a nebulous term, is the weapon used to coerce concessions out of businesses. The Dupont ANC is killing 17th Street.

    Just wait for the ANCs along 14th Street to get packed with new residents from all those condo projects, who will suddenly be appalled that outdoor venues exist and the city isn’t as quiet as Middleburg at night.

  • This smells of outsider vs establishment and it smells fishy!

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