WASHINGTON — D.C. has revoked its first liquor license during the pandemic. On March 17, Kiss Lounge, located at 637 T Street, Northwest, lost its liquor license after an undercover sting, according to a report from D.C. officials.
The owners are now banned from holding a liquor license in the District for 5 years, according to the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).
The club was cited for several violations, including being over capacity, having after-hours alcohol sales and not enforcing masks.
On the night of Jan. 29, 2021, an ABRA investigator followed up on a complaint at the bar. The investigator said they witnessed customers gaining entrance to the Shaw nightclub after someone unlocked the front door.
Once inside, she witnessed the club was over capacity, customers were unmasked, people were smoking hookah and alcohol was being served after the 10 p.m. cutoff time for D.C. restaurants and bars during the pandemic restrictions.
The report indicated employees even developed a system of barking like dogs to act as a lookout when police were in the area.
According to the order, owners “intentionally and willfully violated various rules and regulations designed to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 and staff engaged in a premeditated effort to evade detection with the knowledge of the ownership.”
Investigators deemed Kiss Lounge an “imminent danger” with owners “unfit to be trusted to comply,” because they have proved to have a “general contempt for the law that endangers safety of staff, customers, and the general public.”
According to ABRA, the licensee still has appeal rights in this matter, including having ten days of receipt of the order to file a motion of reconsideration with the Board.
Owner Eyob Asbeha denied the allegations and told WUSA9 he’s being targeted. He provided WUSA9 with a cellphone video of ABRA investigator John Fiorentine inside his lounge the night of Jan. 27, 2021.
Fiorentine is close to the owner and in a raised voice demands, “when I identify myself as ABRA the door opens! Who’s the board going to believe John Fiorentine or YOU? This tavern, I don’t mind shutting you down.”
According to Fiorentine's report, he accused the bar of staying open after hours and serving alcohol. The undercover sting occurred two days later.
The video from Jan. 27, shows the investigator pulling up his mask after he stepped away from the owner. WUSA9 contacted ABRA about the investigator’s conduct and a spokesperson replied, “ABRA does not comment on personnel matters.”
“If you don’t call this harassment or targeting me ... what else could it be?” questioned Asbeha.
When asked if the undercover investigator was served alcohol after 10 p.m., Asbeha said, “that ... I don’t know about that because I was managing the whole floor. She could have come in at 8 p.m. and closed that tab at 11.”
Asbeha invited our crew inside Kiss Lounge and showed WUSA9 the signs reminding customers about masks and social distancing, even plexiglass shields in between tables. He denies the investigator's claims and said they’ve had a personal vendetta against him since he opened in 2017.
“Some of the members of the council and board live in that area and they’ve been trying to attack me for the last three or four years,” explained Asbeha. “I’ve never had a written warning, verbal warning or fine. I was not treated fairly.”