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Coming out at Night

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Published on: Thursday, August 15, 2013

By Holden Wilen

Montgomery County is already home to venues such as the Fillmore in Silver Spring and the Music Center at Strathmore, but county officials are taking measures to figure out how to further improve the county’s nightlife scene.

Councilman Hans Riemer (at-large), along with County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilman Marc Elrich, established a nighttime economy task force. Riemer is also conducting an online poll to better understand residents’ perspectives about nightlife in the county.

Riemer said he became interested in the topic as a way to make the county more competitive economically and to grow the workforce.

“I want companies to want to come here and bring their jobs here because they are looking for the best workforce in the Washington region. One of the dimensions of that is younger workers, the people in their 20s and 30s, are flooding into D.C., and to some extent Northern Virginia, because of the lifestyle,” Riemer said. “The county could benefit from making adjustments in certain policies or regulations in order to facilitate those kind of restaurants and entertainment venues, as well as focusing on housing and transportation that really impact lifestyle issues.”

So far, Riemer said he has received a mixture of positive and negative feedback. One of the main criticisms he has heard is that Montgomery County law requires bars and other sorts of entertainment venues to be restaurants. He said he spoke to one resident whose dream is to open a brew pub where she would make craft beer. However, the resident has no desire to run a restaurant because of the increased expenses.

“She wants to have a brew pub where people can come and buy beer, and it is not allowed,” Riemer said. “Then, if you look at the role brew pubs are playing in terms of lifestyle, a critical amenity people are turning to as an option in a casual way. It is especially popular with that target 30-year-olds market.”

The county needs to examine the regulatory process as a whole, Riemer said, including its rules about restaurants and the types of licenses the county offers.

“This region has been identified by the National Craft Brewery Association as a place for huge tremendous growth in that sector,” Riemer said. “We have a huge market here in the region for craft brews, but if we do not have laws to facilitate them, then we are missing out.”

Chip Berman, owner of the Outta the Way Café in Derwood, said the county needs to be careful if it is going to make changes to regulatory control.

“Control was the driving force behind all sales and service of alcohol in Montgomery County since prohibition,” Berman said. “Any changes in laws governing sales and service require significant deliberations from all facets of the community.”

Other challenges include transportation and parking, Riemer said. A lot of people do not live close to the places they like to go out to in the evening, so they have to drive, but that leads to parking issues. The county needs to continue improving public transportation, he said, so fewer people have to drive.

Riemer said another challenge is making sure the police are providing a welcoming an environment. He went on a ride-along with the police in Bethesda and said there was a focus on having a presence outside of bars.

“I have never heard anyone say it deters them before, but it can be sort of like am I wanted here or not?” Riemer said. “I think it is fine to have a strong police presence if it is done in a way that at the same time helps communicate a message of this a welcome place that you want to come hang out in.”

While there are certainly some challenges, Riemer said the county is not starting from scratch because there are already many places for people to go. For example, he enjoys going to Quarry House Tavern and Jackie’s Sidebar in Silver Spring. Other popular locations in Montgomery County include the Fillmore, the Music Center at Strathmore and Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, which opened this past March.

Gillian Moloney, social media and marketing manager for Bethesda Blues and Jazz, said the venue provides entertainment to a wide variety of people both middle-aged and younger. The club seats 500 people and has live music five nights a week. It recently hosted a performance by Wayne Brady.

It has been difficult getting the word out, she said, but the people are becoming more and more interested in the club. In order to promote the club more, Moloney said, promotions are appealing to the historical nature of the Bethesda Theatre building the club is located in.

“When you enter the building, it is like walking back through time,” Moloney said.

Riemer said he is hoping county residents continue to fill out his poll. If the county can improve its nightlife environment, then it can grow the workforce and make itself more economically viable.

“The response that I have had has been very positive,” Riemer said. “People feel that there are good things here, and at the same time they think the county should be taking this side of issues more seriously and working hard on lifestyle issues because that is what the government is here for.”

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