Soon, you’ll be able to come As You Are to Barracks Row.
On Tuesday night, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B voted unanimously to support the application for As You Are (AYA) Bar (500 Eighth St. SE), with an agreement in place. The vote was held at the end of a Jan. 25 Special Call Meeting of the ANC.
AYA founders Rach Pike and Jo McDaniels propose a safe queer space offering a daytime coffee lounge and programming for members of the LGBTQ community and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. But some nearby neighbors opposed the application. Many cited experiences with the previous tenant as they expressed concern about noise and patron behavior after the 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturday close.
On Tuesday, commissioners and residents largely expressed support for the concept and confidence that Pike and McDaniel would work to fulfill their promises. It was a huge change from the tense atmosphere at some of the previous community meetings, when personal invective and accusations of homophobia and racism were put forward in the chat.
‘A Hard Couple of Weeks’
“It’s been a really hard couple of weeks,” a visibly emotional McDaniel told the meeting prior to the vote, noting that both of the AYA founder’s characters had been questioned. McDaniel acknowledged this was because of the neighborhood experience with the previous tenants in the space, saying they had a lot of “grace” for the experience. “[I]t’s also hard to be told that we’re liars, even before anyone knows us,” McDaniel said. “We’re just asking for a chance, that’s all we’re looking for here.”
Pike and McDaniels have encountered homophobic reactions while visiting other Barracks Row restaurants, they said in a November 2020 interview with the Hill Rag. Just prior to a Jan. 6 community meeting, the Hill is Home tweeted a letter addressed to Commissioners and signed by Pope Barrow. The letter said the neighborhood was unanimously opposed to the business. “We have been happy to have every other kind of business in this neighborhood, even Popeye’s with its rats,” the letter went on, also referencing donut shops and porn studios. “But “As You Are” is a step too far.”
Discussion at the meeting that night that got heated, especially in the chat, with accusations of prejudice, bullying and personal insults. “I wish I could send you all off to a different neighborhood,” one resident told supporters, responding to a comment in the chat that an elderly resident could solve noise problems by removing hearing aids.
A Safe Space
But out of that conflict, a safe space can now emerge. Pike and McDaniel say As You Are (AYA) Bar is designed to be a safe place for everyone, including the LGBTQ community. Plans call for the main floor to have the laid-back atmosphere of Adams Morgan staple Tryst (2549 18th St. NW). On the first floor, there will be a restaurant/cafe/lounge, with a kitchen open until a proposed 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday close, with sales ending at 2 a.m. On the second level, they plan a dance floor for ages 18-plus with a DJ booth for shows operating Friday and Saturday nights as well as community-led events.
The Jan. 25 meeting was emotional at times, and attendees could be seen wiping away tears. More than 120 people were in the meeting at one point, many speaking in support of the applicants and the need for a safe queer space like AYA.
ANC 6A06 Commissioner Robb Dooling pointed to the importance of a space like AYA to the deaf community, as well as to the LGBTQ community, saying it would feed the “heart and soul.” ANC 6B residents McKenzie and Elisa pointed to the due diligence Pike and McDaniel had put in, thanking the two for welcoming them to the neighborhood. “Having more recently moved to the community, you made the move much more welcoming as well,” McKenzie said.
Former Alcohol Beverage Control Board member and current ANC Commissioner Mike Silverstein (2B06) spoke from the heart, reflecting on a youth spent closeted for fear of professional and personal repercussions.
“Over my life, I’ve seen other people work to make it possible for me to be myself,” he said. “And I’ve seen things that have happened in my life that I never would have dreamed of. Tonight was one of those.” Silverstein told Pike and McDaniel that they are beloved by the LGBTQ community, and that he was certain the Capitol Hill community would come to the same place before he thanked them and the commissioners “for doing what you can in this troubled and shattered world to bring a sense of community to your community and to the city we love.”
Although community members spent hours discussing their concerns with the application at previous meetings, many of the details of the agreement to address them had been worked out in a length meeting of the ANC Alcohol Beverage Committee.
The Settlement Agreement also encodes many of the extensive efforts that Pike and McDaniel were already making to address these concerns, including noise mitigation and patron control. According to the SA, noise from AYA cannot be heard or vibrations felt “beyond the curb of the establishment or in any other premises at any time.”
Katherine Saffron said she was at multiple sound tests Pike and McDaniel hosted for the neighborhood. As of last night there was no noise inside her house, located a block away “I really can’t speak for any of the other neighbors, but it really did satisfy my needs,” she said.
Pike’s safety plan is also included in the SA, which prescribes that four staff members monitor patrons leaving on nights where there is dancing —and stay on the streets until they are gone, attempting to direct them down Eighth Street rather than E Street SE. ANC ABC Committee member and former ANC 6B Chair Chander Jayaraman said the tiered close is supported by provisions in the SA. Alcohol sales are permitted Fridays and Saturdays until 2 a.m., with consumption is allowed until 2:30 a.m., half an hour prior to the 3 a.m. close.
The only major debate remaining Tuesday night was over the phrasing of a clause inserted by AYA Bar attorney Richard Bianco to avoid being fined twice by the District for the same incident —once for the violation of law and once for the violation of the SA. Commissioners wanted to ensure the way it was worded did not weaken the strength of the SA, and both parties accepted compromise language proposed by a resident attendee.
‘Restoring Eighth Street to Pride of Place’
ANC 6B Chair Corey Holman (6B06) said he recognized and appreciated that voices that not frequently heard at ANC meetings were were part of the discussion. He said Barracks Row was lucky to have the investment and effort McDaniel and Pike had put into a business with daytime and nighttime programming, welcoming their work “to restore Eighth Street back to place of pride as a home of queer culture in DC.” The virtual meeting concluded with a round of cheers.
Just prior the vote, McDaniel thanked supporters. More than 20 spoke at the meeting to commend the project and the role of the AYA founders as leaders in the LGBTQ community.
“Y’all are the reason we do any thing; this is our life’s work,” McDaniel said. “And to the neighbors who have questions —if we are going to protect this community this carefully, I promise your block is safe with us, we’re going to do everything we can to fulfill these promises. That’s why we’re willing to put it in writing.”
You can see the draft SA here. Provided that there are no additional protests before the Feb. 7 deadline, the AYA Bar license is likely to be approved by the District Alcohol Control Board on Feb. 28. If AYA has all other permits and inspections secured, they could open shortly afterward.