Gypsy Sally’s in Line for Rare Tavern License in Georgetown

Photo by Bill Petros/The Current
The closing of Saloun opened up a chance for one new tavern in Georgetown, and Gypsy Sally’s was the first to apply.
The closing of Saloun opened up a chance for one new tavern in Georgetown, and Gypsy Sally’s was the first to apply.

By Katie Pearce
Current Staff Writer

A rarely available tavern license is up for grabs in Georgetown, and Gypsy Sally’s is first in line for it.

The closing of Saloun, at 3239 M St., opened up one of only six tavern liquor licenses permitted in the historic neighborhood. The licenses are coveted because they allow for more freedom with alcohol sales than restaurant licenses do.

And particularly since the opportunity hasn’t come around for the last 20 years, “it immediately becomes a valued commodity,” said Tom Birch of the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission.

A 1994 law restricted the number of tavern licenses in the Georgetown Historic District to six. Further caps on liquor licenses in the neighborhood are established through a moratorium.

The owners of Gypsy Sally’s, a new Americana music venue at 3401 K St., were quick to recognize the narrow window of opportunity for the new license. Karen Ensor, who runs Gypsy Sally’s with her husband David, said she filed the application the same day she heard news of the license from the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration last week.
 

“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I want this,’” said Ensor. “I figured out how to do it, got it notarized … and got it to ABRA.”

Ensor said her motivation came from the mountains of paperwork she’s required to deal with for Gypsy Sally’s existing restaurant-class license.

Restaurant licenses require owners to submit proof that 45 percent of their sales come from food, while tavern licenses don’t require a food sales percentage.

“I have to calculate every little lemon and lime and piece of food that’s sold here,” said Ensor. “With a tavern license, you don’t have to do any reporting.”

Smith Point, the restaurant and bar at 1338 M St., was the second applicant for the tavern license, according to Jessie Cornelius, spokesperson for the D.C. alcohol agency. Representatives from Georgetown Events, the larger company that owns Smith Point (as well other D.C. establishments including Surfside, Jetties and the Bullpen at Nationals Park), weren’t available for comment.

The alcohol agency will review applications on a “first-come, first-serve basis,” Cornelius wrote in an email.

The transfer of the Gypsy Sally’s license from restaurant to tavern would require approval from the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

According to Ensor, if Gypsy Sally’s wins that approval it has no plans to change its business model of offering both live music and fresh food. “We serve dinner here and we’ll always serve dinner here,” she said.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels indicated that his commission would be likely to support such a license change. “Gypsy Sally’s has proven … to live up to how it’s billed itself as a serious music venue that does serve food,” he said. “It appeals to an older demographic and [makes] an excellent addition to the neighborhood.”

According to Starrels, other establishments that expressed interest in the tavern license included the restaurant and bar George, and Malmaison, the restaurant located below Gypsy Sally’s. (The alcohol agency has named only Gypsy Sally’s and Smith Point as formal applicants.)

The remainder of the tavern licenses in Georgetown are held by Rhino Bar, Chadwick’s, El Centro D.F., Modern and Blue Gin, whose license is in safekeeping. The license formerly belonging to Saloun was canceled in September; that M Street space now belongs to a GANT clothing store.

This article appears in the Nov. 20 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.