Last Wednesday, the College Park City Council voted to support Hanami Japanese Restaurant's application to start selling beer and wine. But due to the many complexities associated with the sale of alcohol, it may be awhile before Hanami's patrons can expect to wash down their sushi with anything stronger than a soda.
When it comes to obtaining a liquor license, applicants have to go to through an extensive process. A vendor applies to the Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners, and the county's Liquor Control Board schedules a hearing at the County Service Building in Hyattsville, according to Bob Ryan, director of College Park's Public Services Department.
The city then processes anyone who applies. "The city attorney and I meet with the applicant and their attorneys, to work out a property-use agreement with them," said Ryan. "The agreement establishes the guidelines and requirements for alcohol sales."
After meeting with the city officials and hammering out an agreement that appeases both sides, the matter goes before city council. If city council approves, all parties proceed to the next step, which is the hearing with the Liquor Control Board.
"If we've approved everything, we go to bat for them at the hearing, testifying on their behalf," said Ryan.
However, liquor licenses are not readily available. According to Ryan, the liquor board has new ones come up every year and some are transferable from defunct businesses, but applicants are applying for licenses available on an individual basis.
While there is "no absolute limit to how many licenses there are," Ryan noted that "the county considers density when issuing licenses."
He did, however, say that sometimes the county doesn't do the best job of this, citing what some University of Maryland students affectionately refer to as the "Beermuda Triangle," with Town Hall Liquors, #1 Liquors and College Park Liquors all saturating a one-block stretch of Route 1.
According to Ryan, when applying for a license: "you're usually going up against another establishment for the very same license. "At the September 28th liquor board hearing, Hanami Japanese Restaurant on Route 1 in College Park, is facing El Ranchero y Sus Mariachis restaurant in Beltsville, for a new license to serve beer and wine.
The annual licenses expire on a specific date, depending on which type of license an establishment holds. When it comes time to renew, "it's a very easy process," said Cornerstone Grill & Loft owner Mark Srour. "You just fill out the application and send it back in."
However, Srour added that the city had attempted to block their renewal on multiple occasions, but since renewals go straight through the county liquor board, the city's objections were moot.