Do you want a Mi Patio which can host musical entertainment three nights a week but cannot card or search patrons at the door? Or do you want a Mi Patio which can card and search patrons at the door but could also host musical entertainment seven nights a week?
Those are essentially the two outcomes possible in the debate over Mi Patio's special entertainment permit application before the Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners, also known as the liquor control board.
Those who are opposed to Mi Patio's application would effectively be lobbying for the situation at the restaurant to stay as it is now, at least on paper. Per the restaurant's pre-existing exemption to the special entertainment permit, live and deejayed music would be permitted up to 2 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, but restaurant owners would be prohibited to card or search patrons at the door at any time.
Those who support Mi Patio, a Dominican restaurant located at 5420 Queens Chapel Road in West Hyattsville, would effectively be lobbying for the restaurant to be able to play music from the Dominican Republic up to seven nights a week (up to midnight on Monday through Thursday, up to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday) and to able to card and search patrons at the door.
To understand why this is, you have to understand two legal categories under which Maryland restaurants which serve alcohol are classified. Generally speaking, if you have an alcoholic beverage license and you plan on hosting deejayed music or other kinds of performances, you need a special entertainment permit from your county's liquor control board.
However, if the music or performances are not the main attraction (think elevator muzak sometimes played in restaurants), you can apply for an exemption to the special entertainment permit which also allows you to play music in your establishment. Essentially, it's the difference between a nightclub and a late-night diner with a jukebox. While both are open late and play music, the music isn't the main attraction at the diner.
Thus, restaurants with exemptions to the special entertainment permit are generally not allowed to search or card patrons at the door. With a permit designed for family establishments, why would they need to?
If Mi Patio's application for special entertainment permit is denied, nothing would change on paper, according to staff at the Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners. The restaurant would still maintain its current exemption to the special entertainment permit, which can be renewed at no cost annually, without a public hearing, by a vote of the county Board of License Commissioners.
If denied, restaurant owner Danny Medina said he plans to still host musical entertainment events on the weekends. But he worries about the safety of his customers without the ability to search patrons at the door in the evenings.
"It comes down to, do you think Mi Patio is safer if it can card people, or if it cannot card patrons?" asked Medina, rhetorically, in an interview. "That's all we want."
What is Mi Patio?
In interviews, Medina and his management team have been very insistent that their restaurant is family oriented. It has to be, per Mi Patio's current exemption to the special entertainment permit, which prohibits the entertainment from being the primary reason for going to an establishment.
The reality is somewhere in between. During the day, the restaurant attracts a range of customers looking to chow down on Dominican home-style delicacies like Mangu Dominicano, a dish of mashed plantains, or stewed pork, rice and beans.
But to any casual observer, the weekend evening ambiance stretches the definition of what may be considered family oriented. Visits to the establishment on weekend nights saw deejays pumping throbbing salsa music through the restaurant while customers puff clouds of flavored hookah smoke illuminated by the spinning pinpoint rays of a red and green laser disco-ball.
And while the restaurant, because it lacks a dance hall permit from the Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources, is not allowed to host dancing, some customers who apparently haven't gotten the memo could be seen, either alone or in pairs, moving rhythmically in time with the music. This is the exception to the rule. The vast majority of the patrons do nothing more than converse in Spanish, watch sports on the flat screen TVs, smoke hookahs and sip on bottles of beer.
Medina said that if his special entertainment permit is approved, he would only hold regularly scheduled musical entertainment on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. When asked why he is seeking a permit which would allow music on every night of the week, Medina replied that he needed it in order to legally rent out the restaurant to groups on weeknights. He also noted a desire to host musical entertainment on holidays which might fall on a weekday, as Independence Day does this year.
Policing Mi Patio
Mi Patio's history with police stands in contrast to Acapulco Spirit, the nearby West Hyattsville restaurant whose application for a dance hall license was recently denied by the city council, at least partly over concerns about crime and hooliganism. While Acapulco Spirit saw police respond to the restaurant 14 times over the last year (six of those turned out to be false security alarm alerts), Mi Patio has been visited by city police 35 times in the last 12 months, according to data from the Hyattsville City Police Department.
Those calls include 11 noise complaints, seven reports of a fight, five reports of disorderly conduct, four reports of theft, three reports of assault and two reports of property damage.
However, the vast majority of those incidents are resolved at the scene, and few of those calls became criminal cases. Police only opened cases on 10 incidents; four thefts, two cases of property damage, two arrests for disorderly conduct, one assault, and one incident categorized only as "miscellaneous".
Of the 11 noise complaints city police responded to at Mi Patio in the last year, only two incidents, on Jan. 13 and 15 of this year, saw police advise restaurant management of a noise issue.
On Jan. 22 of this year, Hyattsville Code Compliance officers issued a noise violation notice to Mi Patio after a resident complained that she could hear music from her home across the street at approximately 2 a.m., according to Jim Chandler, director of Hyattsville's Department of Community and Economic Development.
Medina said he tries to operate his restaurant so that it doesn't interfere with his neighbors, and said that he has turned down the music when police have advised him that his music is too loud.
Medina was also critical of a recent article in the Hyattsville Life and Times which he said left readers with an inaccurate impression of why the restaurant was applying for the special entertainment permit, and the type of entertainment which the restaurant wants to offer if the permit is approved.
"They said we would be having dancing. We will not have dancing, because we are not applying for a dance hall license," said Medina. "And the story mentioned exotic dancing and strippers. We will not be having any of that. Just music from the Dominican Republic."
But some, like Hyattsville City Councilor Paula Perry (Ward 4), remain skeptical. In an interview, she recounted numerous complaints which she has received from nearby residents about noise and other disturbances emanating from the restaurant.
"I just want them to operate in a way that is best for the nearby residents," said Perry. "And having loud music till the early morning every day is not best for the nearby residents."
The Hyattsville City Council will be holding a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 1, 2013, right before a scheduled council meeting, to gather resident feedback on Mi Patio's special entertainment permit application to forward on to the Board of License Commissioners. According to a calendar notice on the Hyattsville city website, the city council is expected to act on the matter at the April 15 meeting.
Mi Patio's hearing before the Board of License Commissioners, originally set for April 3, has been pushed back to May 1, 2013 at the request of Hyattsville city staff, according to documents on file at the liquor control board. The Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners meets in room 200 of the County Service Building at 5012 Rhode Island Avenue.