After hours of negotiation, two men casually shook hands inside the lobby of Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control headquarters. It appeared mundane, but anyone who paid attention to Shockoe Bottom events in recent months would have seen a long-running dispute seemingly come to a close.
Following an informal hearing, William “Mac” McCormack, along with five others, agreed to drop objections to a mixed beverage liquor license application for an as-yet unopened nightclub owned in part by Rodney Peterson.
In exchange, Peterson and the other owners of Aqua nightclub and lounge, in the 1700 block of East Main Street, agreed to bar entry to patrons younger than 21, enforce a dress code and notify the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association before any change in the club’s theme or ownership. The conditions will be attached to Aqua’s liquor license and have the effect of other state regulations, an ABC spokeswoman says.
McCormack and Peterson have been at odds for months over another one of Peterson’s clubs, Have a Nice Day Café. One of the Bottom’s oldest nightspots, it’s become ground zero in the debate surrounding Shockoe violence. Two shooting deaths in the last two years outside the club led to increased police presence in the Bottom, along with significant declines in sales, according to some area business owners.
McCormack, who owns the eponymous Irish pub, called on the city to shut down the club, even creating a Facebook page rallying others to the cause.
But following the ABC hearing, McCormack says he’s satisfied. “The goal here was never to shut down their business,” he says of Aqua. “It was to create a better business for Shockoe Bottom, and I think we’ve done that.”
Bryon McGainey, Aqua’s soft-spoken majority stakeholder and Peterson’s cousin, says “everything they got from us in terms of occupancy and age limit is something that we wanted to do anyway.”
Unlike Have a Nice Day Café, Aqua will appeal to a mature crowd, says McGainey, which he hopes will allay concerns. “But there’s only so much that a club owner can do to prevent violence outside of the establishment,” he says.
Some other venues in Shockoe have struggled too.
The owner of the 1800 Bar and Grille, Baby Girl Bar & Grill Inc., owes $10,358 in unpaid taxes to the state, according to court records filed Nov. 8. If a payment schedule isn’t resolved, it could face penalties that include having the restaurant’s front doors padlocked, says Joel Davison, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation. The owners of 1800 didn’t return a call for comment.
Butcher paper still adorns the windows of Mingles, a Caribbean-themed restaurant in the corner building across 18th Street. The restaurant was shuttered early this fall. State tax officials closed Posh, a nightclub along the Main Street strip, in June, but owner Charles Tarrer since has caught up on his taxes and reopened.
“It’s a struggle down here for everyone right now, especially the mom and pop places,” Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association’s president, David Napier, says when asked about 1800. “If you’re a club, you can maybe survive on just door charges. But if the small businesses can’t survive, it’s not good for the neighborhood.”
As for Aqua, it’s expected to open next month.