After years of fighting to maintain its footing against gentrification, and with a capacity crowd in attendance, a protest hearing before the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration finally heard testimony concerning The V.I.P. Room’s application for a Retailer’s Class “C” Tavern License.
The license would allow the establishment to sell or serve beer and wine except between 2 a.m. – 8 a.m., Monday through Friday; 3 a.m. – 8 a.m., Saturday; and 3 a.m. – 8 a.m., Sunday. The V.I.P. Room is a Black family-owned social hall, founded in 1978. According to the family that established the venue, the hall began facing challenges in 2015 when new homeowners protested a shift in the venues liquor licensing.
“We’ve been model business operators and community partners for decades, so when we were taken aback by accusations that somehow we were violating community codes of conduct,” Earline Sampson, the venue’s co-founder, told the AFRO outside the hearing. “We’ve never had law enforcement issues, licensing infractions, ordinance abuses, or violations of any sort either inside or around our business.”
Founded by Earline and Sam Sampson, the venue, which has stood as a gathering location for church and community organizations, operated without selling alcohol, instead opting to apply for temporary liquor licenses – when occasional wedding or anniversary parties required it through catering. Finding it cost prohibitive, the Sampsons decided to apply for a Class C Tavern License, which they say has been approved, rescinded, and now sits in limbo.
Previously, temporary day/event licenses were issued through D.C.’s Office of Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) to the VIP Room for alcohol consumption for $300 per license. With the popularity of the venue, Sampson was advised to apply for a tavern license, which would offer an annual renewable liquor license and streamline the cost. It was during this new application process, Sampson said, that new residents began an aggressive campaign to label the business a nuisance.
The protest group, (made up of five or more residents) opposed the licensure because of the concerns by new residents over noise, parking, and a potential decrease in their homes’ real estate value based on proximity to the venue.
However, Mark Bashir, investigator for the Board testified to a clean community record, absent of credible noise complaints, violations, or infractions. “We will have to wait for the official verdict from the Board, and although it has been a long, uphill battle, we are fighting the good fight,” Bo Sampson, the venues manager and son of Earline and Sam, told the AFRO. “The VIP Room has always been a good steward of the community, so it makes no sense to accuse us unfairly because newcomers don’t see our value.”
The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration will render a verdict in 90 days.