Neighbors Say Acqua Al 2’s Pop Up Restaurant and Speakeasy Violate DC Code

The unmarked door at left is the unassuming entrance to Harold Black Speakeasy and the now-closed Suna

The unmarked door at left is the unassuming entrance to Harold Black Speakeasy and the now-closed Suna

Acqua al 2's Liqour License Application Shows Addition of New Trade Names

 Neighbors Say Acqua Al 2’s Pop Up Restaurant and Speakeasy Violate DC Code;

Al 2 Liquor License Up for Renewal Before ANC Committee Tonight

by Larry Janezich

Nearby neighbors of Acqua al 2 (AA2) at 212 7th Street, SE, charge that its two recently opened adjuncts, “Suna” (which closed March 10 after four months) and the speakeasy, “Harold Black Bar” operated without a liquor license. 

Neighbors have taken their complaints to ANC6B and to DC’s Alcohol Beverage Review Administration (ABRA).  Chief among their concerns is that the AA2 operated and may still be operating in violation not only of its voluntary agreement with the neighbors, but also with DC Code.  The restaurant’s liquor license is currently up for renewal before both bodies. 

At issue are two new establishments on the second floor of the restaurant – the recently closed Suna and (according to co-owner Johnny Spero quoted in the food blog EATER at the still-operating speakeasy “Harold Black Bar.” 

Neighbors contend in their written complaint that in March 2012, when AA2 requested modification of their license to extend their hours of operation and expand the restaurant, the restaurant owner said that this expansion would only be used occasionally for private parties.  A Voluntary Agreement (VA) was written and signed to accommodate these requests.

Subsequently, a separate restaurant named “Suna” with its own kitchen, and a third operation, “Harold Black Bar” were also established on the second floor, neither of which can be accessed from the restaurant downstairs.  Instead the entrance to these two operations is through an unmarked door at a separate address, 214 7th Street, SE.   AA2 is at 212 7th Street, SE.

In addition, neighbors say that during the voluntary agreement discussions, there was no mention or consideration of another restaurant, kitchen, or separate bar on the second floor.

AA2 has applied for a liquor license renewal and added the following trade names to the same license: Suna/Harold Black Bar, apparently an ex poste facto admission of the need to obtain specific licensing for those establishments.

Neighbors point to DC Code, which states in section 600.3:  “An additional trade name shall not be used to identify a location separate and apart from the licensed premises. When a licensed establishment uses an additional trade name, its patrons must be able to access the area of the licensed premises identified by the additional trade name from the area of the licensed premises identified by the original trade name.”

In addition, neighbors say AA2 is not currently in compliance with the voluntary agreement where it is written that:  “No patrons will be allowed in the garden, nor will the area (approximately 312 square feet total, currently used for storage) to the rear of the 2nd floor be open to patrons.”  Their letter to ABRA says, “In fact their new restroom, which is accessible to patrons, is located in the rear of the 2nd floor facing our windows.” 

Suna was closed in early March after only four months, a week before a savage half-star review by Tom Sietsema was published in the Washington Post, but the review apparently had nothing to do with the closing which was never explained by owners.  Neighbors worry that, if a new license is granted, they do not know what kind of operation will replace it.  As has been reported elsewhere, both Suna and the speakeasy Harold Black Bar fostered the mystique of in-crowd exclusivity; neither had signage, and Harold Black—a bar—nonetheless required reservations.  The bar’s phone number was unpublished and the procedure for making a reservation was ritualistic, as detailed in City Paper, which also published the bar’s reservation phone line number. 

See Young and Hungry at:

 Subsequently, Harold Black cut a deal with CityEats to take reservations through their website.  However much the business seeks to mimic the underground or “pop up” feel of the latest fashionable eating trends, the reality is that they appear to have been operating in a brick and mortar fashion and serving alcohol on premises.  Other than preventing or punishing violence in and around the premises, it is difficult to think of a better example of the kinds of behavior that alcohol liquor licensing was established in order to address.

 ANC 6B’s will meet tonight to discuss this issue (and other licenses) tonight at 7:00 in the Hill Center.


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4 responses to “Neighbors Say Acqua Al 2’s Pop Up Restaurant and Speakeasy Violate DC Code

  1. I’m so sick of this and other blogs / posts from people on the hill where they do nothing but complain about things which either don’t impact them or if it does, it still benefits the entire community more.

    In this case, sure, they should probably have a license. However, why did these individuals complain? To ‘save’ the community from a menace? Hardly. Let the city officials do their jobs, not like somebody wouldn’t have noticed this at some point during a health or liquor inspection.

  2. Larry–after sitting through tonight’s meeting and review of the Acqua case, I hope you’ll correct, or at least clarify some of the assertions in your blog post. Granted, the speak easy and Suna may not have comported completely with the spirit of their voluntary agreement, but clearly nothing done was in violation of DC Code. Nor did we find any substantive, material impact to adjacent properties.

    Thanks, Larry.


    • This case, and the first article are incredibly disappointing. Just so that it is here on the blog record: The ABC committee spent a long time going through the concerns raised by neighbors (who did not show at the hearing) point by point and found nothing that was a violation of the Voluntary Agreement or their license.

      The points we did go through were articulated or made in terms of impacts or problems experienced by the neighbors but were fundamentally alleged process fouls, again none were found.

      The neighbors also called out ABRA inspectors to investigate the claims and to ABRA’s credit, they immediately responded, first interviewing the primary complainant and then doing an inspection. They also found no violations of the licence or the VA.

      Let’s be clear here, it is almost impossible to walk in to any establishment in this city and not find some problems. Just look at Larry’s post where he pulled the health department data. But by any comparison, including Larry’s own on Alleys, this establishment is among the best performers. So why would he post all the unsubstantiated allegations without contacting the restaurant.

      It is disappointing that the neighbors are so frustrated with living at the rear of a restaurant row that they have approached it like this and come up empty, but it is fully within their rights and what’s more I have some amount of sympathy also living back to back with four restaurants and two taverns.

      But how we respond to these frustrations matter a lot.

      Larry’s ‘post first, ask questions later’ approach was in my mind the biggest foul here and I told him as much. To post all these allegations and never make any attempt to reach out to the establishment is not fair, it is not neighborly and it is certainly not journalism. There are reasons why journalist have standards and why ANCs have hearings and process. None of it is perfect, but this post was a huge mistake and the follow up article only partially makes amends – thanks for requesting it Brian.

      This neighborhood can do better and actually is in the middle of doing better.

      In the hearing that Acqua’s complainants didn’t show up to, we got preliminary approvals for new agreements from several establishments that have operated for years with out them. We saw some contentions cases continue to work together between the parties to get to resolution, and we deployed a strengthened and updated agreement that should benefit the community.

      It is unfortunate that progress doesn’t drive readers or comment, clicks or ping backs. The old nightly news adage was ‘if it bleeds it leads’. Here it is ‘if it feeds it leads’. The obsession with restaurant conflict is over amplified, unproductive and largely unfair to both sides. Just because it is good gossip and blog fare doesn’t mean it is representative of the best side of our neighborhood.

      • anon

        Larry’s ‘post first, ask questions later’ approach was in my mind the biggest foul here and I told him as much. To post all these allegations and never make any attempt to reach out to the establishment is not fair, it is not neighborly and it is certainly not journalism

        on the alley post, you are well aware of the volume of complaints and actions taken with the health department. Not only did the establishments ignore the neighbors repeated complaints, but they actively tried to obstruct their view to prevent documenting and reporting continuing violations. Would you consider that a “post first, ask questions later” attitude too?