March 13, 2020 at 12:33 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
DC gay bar Uproar hit with city inspections, license challenge
Uproar lounge, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The owner of the D.C. gay bar Uproar at 639 Florida Ave., N.W. says she was subjected to unfair city regulatory action last week when an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner asked three city agencies to investigate the bar for alleged building code violations.

Uproar owner Tammy Truong said an inspector from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs showed up at Uproar on March 5 at the behest of Anita Norman, a commissioner with ANC 1B, which has jurisdiction over the area where Uproar is located.

An investigator with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration visited Uproar on March 6, an ABRA spokesperson told the Blade, for a separate licensing issue. And a spokesperson for the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department said a fire inspector conferred with DCRA following the ANC commissioner’s calls about possible code violations but Fire & EMS decided not to get involved.

Among those who responded to Norman’s calls, Truong said, was DCRA inspector Jeff Reiss, who made an unscheduled inspection visit to Uproar on March 5.

In a March 7 Facebook message, Uproar manager Alex Campbell said Reiss wanted to shut down Uproar’s upper two floors indefinitely, including its roof deck, for alleged unspecified code violations. Campbell stated in his Facebook message that Truong persuaded Reiss to allow the two floors to remain open by agreeing to temporarily lower the bar’s occupancy limit to 28 people on the first floor, 38 on the second floor, and 49 on the larger rooftop space on the third floor.

Truong told the Blade she is in the process of fixing what she called minor violations that Reiss told her about a day or two after he first showed up at Uproar.  She said the lowered occupancy reduces the number of potential patrons by about two thirds, which cuts into Uproar’s normal business.

“DCRA was requested to look at the occupant load at Uproar Lounge,” DCRA told the Washington Blade in a March 12 email in response to a request by the Blade information about Uproar inspection. “DCRA conducted an inspection on March 5, 2020 at 639-641 Florida Ave, N.W.,” the statement says.

“DCRA officials noted several fire code and occupancy violations,” the statement continues. “After DC Fire and EMS inspected photographs taken by DCRA during the inspection, the business was allowed to continue operating with a reduced occupancy load. Uproar Lounge is now working to correct the violations,” the DCRA statement says. “As always, DCRA’s top priority is ensuring the safety of District residents and visitors.”

Norman, the commissioner for ANC 1B, told the Blade on Wednesday that she contacted the city agencies last week to inquire about “safety concerns” related to Uproar. She said she acted as a follow-up to a June 2017 decision by DCRA and a fire marshal to temporarily close Uproar after it was discovered that its third floor roof deck had buckled and was in danger of collapsing.

“As an ANC commissioner of record and of jurisdiction my responsibility is to make sure all establishments, especially the ones in my district, safe for all patrons,” Norman said. “So I contacted DCRA to ask them to provide me with information to make sure they are safe to operate,” she said in referring to Uproar. “If they are, I have no problems with them operating,” Normal said.

A spokesperson for the Fire & EMS Department told the Blade less than a week after the roof deck problem surfaced that the building’s owner, from whom Uproar rents the building, corrected the roof deck problem by adding structural supports to the roof and upper floor. The spokesperson said the corrective action cleared the way for Uproar to safely reopen for business.

Truong told the Blade on Tuesday that the violations cited by the DRCA inspector last week were “completely unrelated” to the 2017 roof deck issue. 

She said she encountered an additional problem on Wednesday morning when an official with the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) told her ABRA was reversing the approval it gave in 2016 for Uproar to expand the size of its third floor roof deck because she did not have the proper certificate of occupancy for the expanded space.

Truong told the Blade that DCRA granted a certificate of occupancy for the additional roof deck space in an adjoining building she is renting from the same landlord that owns the main building in which Uproar operates. For reasons she doesn’t understand, Truong said DCRA has given her two certificates of occupancy, one for the expanded rooftop space and the other for the original part of the building on the three floors that she received when she first opened Uproar in 2014.

“They told me the certificate of occupancy doesn’t match the ABRA license,” Ching said in recounting what an ABRA official told her on Wednesday. “So now I have to reapply for a new license with an increase in occupancy,” she said.

Having to go through that process again prompted the ANC 1B to protest the expansion proposal as they did in 2016 when Truong first received approval for the expansion by the ABC Board over the objections of the ANC.

ABRA spokesperson Jared Powell told the Blade on Wednesday that the ABC Board approved the expanded outdoor space application in 2016 for what ABRA calls a summer garden with the understanding that it would have a total capacity of 99 people. He said Uproar asked for the 99 capacity limit in its application.

Powell said Uproar “only recently” submitted to ABRA a copy of the occupancy certificate for the expanded space awarded by DCRA, which calls for a 200 person total capacity.

“The ABC Board only approved the license for a summer garden capacity of 99 persons,” Powell said in an email. “Despite DCRA issuing a Certificate of Occupancy for a larger capacity amount, that does not supersede the capacity amount approved by the ABC Board,” he said. “Any increase in capacity would need to be requested by the licensee and approved by the ABC Board.”

In a separate development, ANC 1B voted unanimously at its November 2019 meeting to oppose Uproar’s routine application to renew its liquor license. At the same meeting the ANC voted to oppose the license renewal of 22 other liquor serving establishments in the U Street-Florida Ave. area under the ANC’s jurisdiction, according to the meeting minutes posted on the ANC’s website.

The minutes did not state a reason for why the ANC is opposing Uproar’s license. But in a letter informing ABRA of the protest against the Uproar license, the ANC cited its standard list of reasons for opposing liquor licenses for most bars and clubs – an adverse effect on property values of nearby residents, a negative impact on “peace, order and quiet” in nearby neighborhoods, and a negative impact on “residential parking and vehicular and pedestrian safety.”

Among those voting to oppose the Uproar license was gay ANC 1B member Robb Hudson, who is a member of the city’s ANC Rainbow Caucus. Hudson told the Blade on Wednesday he wanted to hold off on commenting on his reason for voting for the Uproar license protest until he goes over his notes to “remember the exact situation.”

The city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which makes the final decision on whether a liquor license should be approved or turned down, usually approves licenses under protest, but the approval process involves a public hearing in which establishments applying for the license usually must retain an attorney to work through the process at considerable expense, nightlife advocates have said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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