How to Obtain Liquor Licenses in Washington, D.C.

by Francine Richards; Updated September 26, 2017

As a restaurateur, manufacturer or retail seller of alcohol, you will need a liquor license to sell and distribute alcoholic beverages in Washington, D.C. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration manages the licensing process, including reviewing applications, issuing and renewing licenses. As an independent agency, ABRA also makes sure liquor license holders comply with regulations. Obtaining a liquor license in D.C. involves completing an application, meeting with a licensing specialist at ABRA and passage of a background investigation and protest period.

Step 1

Download the “ABC License Application” from the District of Columbia’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration’s website, if you are a retail establishment or wholesale applicant. Review the instructions to ensure you meet the qualifications to obtain a license, such as being over 21 years old and having government-issued identification. If applicable, have the Landlord Affidavit and Transfer Consent forms completed. Complete the application and obtain the proper signatures needed for each document.

Step 2

Call the ABRA licensing specialist at 202-442-4423 to schedule an appointment to submit your application for a liquor license. You will need to meet with a licensing specialist and submit your application in person.

Step 3

Go to the appointment with the licensing specialist. ABRA is located at 2000 14th Street, NW, Suite 400S. Bring all of the paperwork, including the application, applicable consent and authorization forms. Additionally, you must bring government-issued identification, your business’ tax registration form and your Clean Hands Certification. The licensing specialist will review your paperwork on-site to assess the application and processing fees. If you are found to owe more than $100 to the District government, per the Clean Hands Law, you will be denied a liquor license.

Step 4

Submit your payment for the liquor licensing and processing fees, as determined by the licensing specialist. Should your application be denied, you will receive a refund of the processing fee, based on your business type -- sole proprietor, partnership or corporation. ABRA only excepts cashier’s checks, money orders, certified checks, Visa or MasterCard. Cash, business or personal checks and all other credit cards are not accepted.

Step 5

Wait to receive notification from ABRA if you are granted or denied a liquor license. ABRA will complete a criminal history evaluation and allow a 45-day period for the public to file a protest against your proposed liquor license. Once your background investigation is reviewed and the protest period has ended, you will receive your liquor license, as long as you have no offenses, don't owe the District money and don't have any protests.

About the Author

Francine Richards is a licensed multi-state insurance agent with years of human resources and insurance industry experience. Her work has appeared on Blue Cross Blue Shield websites and newsletters, the Houston Chronicle and The Nest. Richards holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the University of Maryland.

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