The Music Cafe, which helped lead the fight to overturn the ban on alcohol sales in Damascus, is now the third business to apply for a beer and wine license there.
The Board of License Commissioners is scheduled to hold a hearing on the application March 7 in the County Office Building in Rockville.
Chris Anderson and her husband, Randy Anderson, opened the Music Café in 2006. The couple hosted a two-day music marathon in November to drum up support for lifting the ban, citing it as an economic necessity for independent local businesses. On Nov. 6, 2012, a referendum vote overturned the long-standing ban on serving alcohol.
First to apply for the historic new beer and wine licenses was New York J&P Pizza on Ridge Road in the Weis shopping center, with a hearing set for Feb. 7. Second was Ledo Pizza on Main Street in the Damascus Shopping Center, with a hearing set for Feb. 21. There is no limit on the number of establishments that can apply for a license.
“It’s very tough in a small town for a place like ours to survive,” said Chris Anderson.
She said the Music Café would have applied for a license sooner but needed to wait for lease amendments requested by the landlord having to do with serving alcohol and a minor change in hours.
“Typically our bands play until 10 p.m. and we close at 11 on Friday and Saturday nights,” she said. “If the license is approved, we expect the bands will play to 11 or 11:30 and we’d close at midnight.”
Anderson said the musicians who perform at the café are pleased about the change.
“They’ve always said that they could probably get more people to come if we could serve beer and wine,” she said.
The café hosts live music acts and serves soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts, pastries and gourmet coffee. Customers currently order food and nonalcoholic drinks at the counter.
The staff of two full-time workers and seven part-time workers will be trained as servers, and the café may also hire an additional waiter, she said. The café is converting a closet in the table area to function as a wait station.
The Andersons are also converting part of the pastries section to serve draught beer, including beer brewed by Flying Dog based in Frederick.
“We still buy through the county, but it’s a way of supporting a local business,” she said.
Per liquor board rules, owners and employees will be trained in procedures and regulations, including the need to check IDs.
The changes cost money but Anderson said the expense is necessary as the Music Café moves into the next phase of its evolution.
“We have to do it,” she said. “It’s the law, and we want to comply.”
Anderson acknowledged that opponents are worried that serving beer and wine will hurt the community. With the exception of a few special licenses, Damascus had been a dry town since its founding in 1884, voting to keep the status quo five times before the November 2012 reversal.
Like the owners of the pizza restaurants, she wants the essential nature of the business to remain the same.
“We don’t want to be a bar,” she said. “We’re mainly a music venue and a place to eat.”
Anderson said the licenses are a needed boost to local businesses that will also help other establishments.
“Some of our customers have said, ‘You’ll see us more often,’” she said. “It’ll help keep people in town.”