2015 | Dine

Hard Times Café Struggling With Tax, Liquor License Issues

The restaurant's owner says the Bethesda location will close for good if he can't work out a deal with the state by Thursday

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Photo: Owner Greg Hourigan outside Hard Times Cafe in Bethesda, which he has operated for 17 years. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Hard Times Café has been closed since Monday as its owner deals with tax issues in an attempt to get the Bethesda restaurant’s liquor license reinstated.

A sign posted Monday on the Del Ray Avenue restaurant’s door reads: “We will be closed today for some spring cleaning…still working on the liquor license!”

Greg Hourigan, who owns the 17-year-old Woodmont Triangle restaurant, said this afternoon he will have to close the restaurant permanently if he is unable to negotiate a deal with the state by Thursday on paying taxes the business owes.

“I’m just trying to figure out what the number is that we owe the state of Maryland to get the license released,” Hourigan said. In the past he says he has been able to negotiate deals with the state to a pay a portion of the taxes owed by the business in order to keep the restaurant's liquor license.

The state won’t allow Hourigan to renew the restaurant’s license with the county until the two sides work out a deal to pay the taxes, Hourigan says. All establishments that serve liquor in the county are required to renew their licenses at the beginning of May and Hourigan says he found out he wouldn’t be receiving his license at some point before then.

Hourigan said the restaurant's tax problems began when he was diagnosed with leukemia in June 2012. He battled the blood disease for a year, losing the lower portions of his legs, which were amputated at the knee, and the upper portion of two fingers on his right hand.

He said restaurant sales suffered when he left and the restaurant fell behind on paying taxes.

In the past, Hourigan said he would negotiate at this time of year with the state to pay a portion of the taxes owed by the business and the state would allow Montgomery County to release the liquor license. However, he said he hasn’t been able to raise enough funds this year to pay the state enough to renew the license.

“I was able to wiggle my way out last year,” Hourigan said.

He said he was working with possible investors to help raise the funds, but wasn’t able to secure a deal before losing the license.

Hard Times was open last week, but didn’t serve alcohol. On Monday it closed for what was described as “spring cleaning.” Hourigan says staff members are cleaning the restaurant, kitchen equipment and furniture.

“We’re trying to act like we’re going to reopen the restaurant,” he said.

Hourigan is a popular figure in the Bethesda restaurant and business community. In 2013 he was honored with the Hospitality Hall of Honor award by the Restaurant Association of Maryland and the community raised $30,000 for him at an Aug. 9 fundraiser held shortly after he was diagnosed with leukemia.