Acqua al 2 Responds to Neighbor Allegations – New Light Shed on Closing of Suna
by Larry Janezich
Ari Gejdenson, co-owner of Acqua al 2, (AA2) addressed ANC6B’s Alcohol Beverage Control Committee Thursday night to respond to allegations and concerns brought before the commission by neighbors of the restaurant regarding two recent additions in service provided by the establishment on its second floor. Neighbors had raised these concerns – which were posted on Capitol Hill Corner – to the ANC in connection with the AA2’s application for renewal of its liquor license.
Gejdenson brought a photograph to show the existing entrance from Acqua al 2’s dining room to its upstairs to refute the allegation that AA2 was in violation of DC Code requiring that connection. Gejdenson further asserted that AA2 was in compliance with the Voluntary Agreement with neighbors saying that there was a 12 foot non-customer space between the recently installed bathrooms and the rear of the restaurant. He asserted that claims of a fan and vent in one of the rear windows were in fact the back of a freezer on wheels. He explained that one of the rear windows had been covered with plywood pending replacement after having been broken. He further asserted that he had gotten permits for all work done on the premises, including the fence on top of the building which, he said, had been mentioned by neighbors as a feature they would like to see to hide rooftop mechanicals and deflect noise away from residents.
With respect to addition of the trade names Suna and Harold Black Bar to the liquor license, Gejdenson said that rather than confirming that they are different operations from AA2, he is required by the city to add the names to the license given they are separate operations within AA2. He assured the Committee that it is not a significant change and comes down to paying a $500 fee. Still, the broader point remains whether neighbors should have a voice in the expansion of a bar/restaurant before it happens and not after the fact.
Commissioner Brian Pate, who represents the Single Member District adjacent to where the neighbors raising complaints live, recalled visiting the second floor of the restaurant when he was considering holding an event there and thinking that “this is not what we voted for when we voted to support expansion of extra upstairs seating” at AA2. He went on to say that AA2 was in compliance with the letter of the agreement with the ANC but perhaps not the spirit. Commissioner Ivan Frishberg, who represents the Single Member District where both AA2 and the neighbors are located, said that “what’s striking is that Acqua al 2 is still in compliance with the law,” and the “concerns (raised by neighbors) are process concerns, not that there has been any harm.”
In responding to questions raised by nearby neighbors, Gejdenson shed new light on the sudden closing of Suna and lent credence to neighbor concerns that the restaurant had gone beyond neighbor’s understanding of what AA2 would be. Alluding to a possible disagreement with Suna chef Johnny Spero, Gejdenson said that Suna was supposed to be a “tasting room” within AA2, but the chef wanted to establish a separate operation and compete with AA2, “that’s part of the reason it ended quickly.” Citing the blogosphere reaction when Suna closed and Harold Black Bar stayed open, Gejdenson said “it seemed like a separate operation.” Although Gejdenson cited other examples of “tasting rooms” it is in reality unclear how these differ from a restaurant in a factual sense, and indeed, if Chef Spero was attempting to compete with AA2, it’s not clear that they do.
Regarding the space which was formerly Suna, Gejdenson said, “all we’re doing is private dining and cocktail events.” He went on to say that he would think that the neighbors would be happy (with Harold Black Bar) which prohibits standing at the bar and loud conversation, and limits seating to 28. Frishberg backed up the claim, noting that the bar’s rules of decorum are printed on the menu.
The Committee voted to recommend extension of the liquor license, subject to receipt of a signed Voluntary Agreement.