Regulation

D.C. Regulators Not Pleased With Pub Owner Whose Customers Don't Buy Enough Food

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No TV. No standing. Good!

What's the difference between a restaurant and a tavern? For The Saloon, a pub located in D.C.'s newly bustling U Street corridor, it could be the difference between staying in its current location and finding a new home. As the Washington City Paper reports, The Saloon, one of my favorite low-key places to grab a burger and a beer (the no-TV-policy and the no-standing rule means it's never too loud or too crowded), is under fire from local regulators for not meeting the requirements associated with its restaurant-class liquor license:

Along with a few other establishments that seem like bars but have restaurant-class liquor licenses (easier to get than tavern licenses), The Saloon landed in trouble last week for not selling enough food. The place did 35 percent of its business in food sales when, according to the terms of its license, it needed to do 45 percent. That meant appearing at an Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board hearing. There, a city lawyer made The Saloon an "offer in compromise" that would have gotten it off the hook. All Jahanbein had to do was give the the municipality a little succor in the form of a fine, and submit to things like continued monitoring. Jahanbein turned it down. "They wanted to charge me $1,000," he says. "I don't know why anyone should compromise when they think their view is legit."

…The reason his spot fell below 45 percent in food sales is because, in true pub fashion, The Saloon attracts people who want to hobnob after work. Sometimes that means having a few beers as opposed to ordering food. "I cannot force the people to eat," he says.

Years ago, Jahanbein moved The Saloon from Georgetown to the U Street corridor, which in recent years has become one of the city's most thriving bar scenes. But he tells the City Paper that he's more than willing to move again if it turns out he's not welcome to do business. It's not as if Jahanbein entirely unwilling to play ball with the regulators, either:

He's willing to get a tavern license if the ABC Board thinks he should. But he knows local NIMBYs often block such authorizations, for fear of what a "tavern" will mean for their neighborhood's quality of life. That's the scenario that could make him pull up stakes.

Whether or not you think that establishments that sell liquor should be licensed by local authorities, it seems fairly pointless to attempt to distinguish between taverns and restaurants based on some arbitrary food-to-alcohol sales ratio. You'll always end up with boundary cases, like The Saloon (which has genuinely tasty bar food but is also a great place to buy a fancy pint or three), that aren't well served by either. Jahanbein is probably right that if he applied for a tavern license, the general antipathy toward handing out those licenses in D.C. means he might not get it. But a change in licensing status probably wouldn't change his actual business, which has a great history in the neighborhood and doesn't seem to bother locals. The only reason he's in trouble is because city regulators decided to enforce a licensing requirement that likely makes very little difference to most of folks who actually live in the U Street area. In theory, the point of distinguishing between restaurants and taverns is to allow neighborhoods to minimize the number of noisy, alcohol-only bars. But in practice, it just gives regulators the power to act like petty tyrants and, overall, makes it harder, and less appealing, to do business in the city.

(Photo by Flickr user Jenn Larsen.)

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  1. no-standing rule

    WTF?

    1. P Brooks:

      D.C. bars get really, really crowded. Like can’t move across the room crowded. (Part of the reason why is that local officials make it really difficult to open new bars! So there’s more demand than supply.) Saloon’s owner wants to keep his place relatively low-key, so he prohibits packs of people from hanging around without seats. It’s not a no-standing-at-any-time rule. It’s just that you can’t spend the evening standing in a pack blocking the walkways or the bar.

      1. Just go drink at the Capitol.

      2. That sounds like my kind of place.

        1. Tough Shit.

      3. D.C. bars get really, really crowded. Like can’t move across the room crowded. (Part of the reason why is that local officials make it really difficult to open new bars! So there’s more demand than supply.)

        I expect that present bar owners aren’t too upset about the government dictated limited competition as well.

        1. Crowded DC bars. Ruinous economic/political policy. Causation or correlation? Discuss.

  2. Yeah, its not like theres unemploymnet in DC or anything like that.
    What we need in DC is more standup Kubuki Threatres!!! That serve 27% haggis (I have no idea how you actually spell organ meats wrapped in pig entrails)16% gin, and organic pineapples locally grown.
    Thats what we really need…

    1. I’m not sure how you spell organ meats wrapped in pig entrails either, but it’s definitely not spelled “haggis,” as haggis is traditionally encased in a sheep’s stomach (though most use artificial casings nowadays).

    2. Gah! Some shit should not even be mentioned outside of Scotland. Make that a lot of things.

      1. Don’t trash it till you’ve shat it.

        1. Organ meats should be eaten as sweetbreads, not some stupid sausage packed with sheep fat. When I had haggis in Scotland, it was appallingly fatty. Unnecessarily so.

          1. I’m no foodie, but I was surprised to enjoy the haggis I had there and didn’t find it any fattier than other sausages. In fact, it seemed much leaner than, say, German sausages. Did you have haggis more than once? Just wondering if you had a fair sample size…

            1. Episiarch had it at McDonald’s. He thought it was a Scottish restaurant.

            2. My favorite haggis moment was when the local butcher in Edinburgh told my wife and me that ‘the microwave was made for cooking haggis’.
              It’s actually not much different from ‘dirty rice’, the kind you get at Popeye’s (not that I ever eat there, of course…)

            3. My favorite haggis moment was when the local butcher in Edinburgh told my wife and me that ‘the microwave was made for cooking haggis’.
              It’s actually not much different from ‘dirty rice’, the kind you get at Popeye’s (not that I ever eat there, of course…)

              1. Someday, urkobold.blogspot.com/2008/01/haggis-new-sushi.html”>next sushi.

                1. Arrrgggghhh!

                  Again:

                  Someday, haggis will be the next sushi.

                  1. Ach! My cursor accidentally brushed the link to the Urkobold, effectively crashing my browser.

                    1. It’s been known to do that.

  3. He tries to reduce consumption to counter the obesity epidemic and gets punished? I thought obesity was bad?

  4. “gives regulators the power to act like petty tyrants”

    I though petty tyrant was he definition of regulator?

    1. When can we get around to calling Webster about that?

    2. I must disagree.

  5. At one time, it wasn’t quite so ridiculous in Cincinnati; the liquor laws for a certain class of bars required them to ‘serve food’.
    But you really didn’t want one of those hot dogs that had spun endlessly on the cooker for the past several years.

  6. The place did 35 percent of its business in food sales when, according to the terms of its license, it needed to do 45 percent.

    I assume this is in dollar terms.

    Just raise the food prices; That’ll fix the problem.

    It’s DC, right?

    1. I was wondering if you could have some sort of promo like “order dinner, get a free beer” so that you could shift more of your sales into the “food” category.

      1. Include a $0.25 bag of pretzels on every drink tab?

        1. Instead of calling beer beer, call it nachos. On the menu. On receipts.

          1. I do enjoy a cold, frothy, triple-hopped order of nachos.

            1. That…actually works, somehow. Made me hungry at least.

            2. I made an icosahopped IPA recently. Every five minutes from 90 minutes to flameout. Still have the 20th to go, dryhopping it this weekend.

            3. I’d like a shot of your Mexican french fries (tequila) with a chaser of your best imported draft nachos.

              1. This would also work well for expense accounts.

                1. It solves all problems associated with the purchase and consumption of alcohol.

          2. I like the way you problem solve.

        2. Instead of $5 beers, sell little bowls of peanuts for $5 that come with a free beer.

          Though of course there might be a regulation prohibiting free alcohol….

          1. Combo special. 4.99 for the chips, a penny for the beer.

        3. No, sell a tiny $4 bag of pretzels that come with a free beer.

      2. Right. Can’t reason send an intern over there to put together some gimmicks to get this guy into compliance? This is trivially easy.

    2. I had a better idea: lower the prices for booze.

  7. At least he could’ve gotten a tavern license. No can do in NH.

    1. I think the point is he could apply for a tavern license that he likely would not get, forcing him to move.

    2. you mean there are no bars in NH?

      1. Technically that’s correct. You can’t get a liquor license in NH unless you’re a restaurant (with some minor exceptions for B&Bs;, Boats and Trains).

        1. Is that related to state run booze shops?

          1. No reason to believe so. I believe it’s just your run of the mill teetotaler reg. “OK, we’ll let you drink, but only on a full stomach!”

  8. If this particular tavern is special, and truly doesn’t piss off the locals, then he shouldn’t have trouble getting the proper license. Right?

    How else can we distinguish this case from a bar owner who claims to be a restaurant, serves shitty food and really caters to the “bar crowd” that these licenses are intended to corral.

    1. Why in hell should “we” distinguish?

      1. Because we’re a bunch of buttinskis who want to control every goddam thing under the sun?

    2. They’re so cute when they’re young and innocent.

  9. Louisville has a similar law. No get a bar license liquor linense, you have to be at least X feet from another bar. Beer licenses and restaurant licenses arent limited like this. Here, restaurant requires 50% of revenue from food.

    A local dance place was hit by this. The location couldnt get a bar liquor license (way too many surrounding it) and they couldnt get people to buy food. They were under 25%. They could have done what other places do and go beer only, but I guess beer and cocaine dont mix well.

    1. My understanding is that this place was targeted. Probably due to the cocaine thing (I was only there once and when clueless rob notices whats going on, then its prevalant). It sounds like anything close to 50% is good enough, although the whole petty tyrant thing comes into play.

      However, I think getting the “tavern” license is pretty easy if you meet the qualifications. There was one lawsuit recently over the distance between bars rule. Courts ruled it should be based on legal walking distance between primary entrances. Thus, a license was given to a bar directly across the street from another bar, because the walking distance was “up to the light, across the street at the crosswalk and back down the street”, not “straight across the street”.

      1. This sounds like my kind of bar.

        1. It’s the Epicenter. Har, har.

          1. This is why I believe there is no God.

            1. The word “epicenter?” What’s so atheistic about that?

              1. I apply the problem of evil to puns as well. No just God in a sane universe would suffer them.

                1. I think the ubiquity of puns proves the existence of God. In fact, the primary force in the universe is the punic force.

                  1. I guess that next you are going to start ruminating on how many puns can dance on the head of a pin.

                  2. I thought the Punic force was a Greek army.

                    1. Oh, you have erred mightily. The Punic army to the Romans would have come from Carthage, which was most assuredly not Greek.

                    2. Give your baby to Baal!

                    3. See, SugarFree understands.

                      Probably just Roman propaganda, but, given that it’s over 2,000 years later, very good Roman propaganda.

      2. Thus, a license was given to a bar directly across the street from another bar, because the walking distance was “up to the light, across the street at the crosswalk and back down the street”, not “straight across the street”.

        Sounds to me like a great jaywalking ticket scheme.

        1. Nah, the city/ABC whatever people were fighting giving out the license, arguing straight line distance, the guy going for the license and the judge went for the walking distance method.

  10. I have another idea. Free beer with purchase of $6 pretzel.

    1. Most places have laws against free beer for some reason.

      1. Yep, I don’t think you can sell it for anything other than a predetermined amount over cost. It is to prevent such things.

        Now, in Texas’ dry counties/cities, you can be a private club with free membership to drink, is that possible in DC? I mean, everyone just signs a card and they’re club members so it’s not a tavern, right?

    2. He could take a cue from strip joints and have a “mandatory food purchase” in order to drink.

      The better solution would be to eliminate the ABC Board, of course.

  11. The no-standing thing makes slightly more sense, now, but as somebody who always moves a barstool out of the way in order to *stand* at the bar, it still seems unnecessarily dictatorial.

    He definitely deserves a big “attaboy” for the no-teevee policy.

    1. TV is okay, but the sound should always be off.

      1. Only if you turn the closed captions on. Closed captioning of live events is some of the best gibberish you will ever see.

    2. As a sports fan, I appreciate tv’s, though I’m cool with the sound-off clause (if I really want to pay THAT close of attention to a game I’ll stay home). What drives me nuts is when bars keep the tv’s when there aren’t any games… Who watches CNBC or, God forbid, actual scripted programming at a bar???

      1. This. Only reason I want the TVs on is for games and no need for sound because the announcers are mostly idiots anyway.

  12. No TV in a bar? Fucking hipsters.

    1. Obvious lone drinker right here.

  13. the announcers are mostly idiots anyway.

    mostly?

    It’s just that I have reached the point where being in a joint surrounded by a lot of slack-jawed dimwits staring up at a teevee gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    YMMV

    And- like ClubMedSux says, if it’s worth watching, I’ll watch at home.

    1. Yeah mostly. There is always new blood who havent been beaten into stupidity yet.

  14. “I don’t know why anyone should compromise when they think their view is legit.”

    A situation where someone says “choose the least harmful of these options or I’ll kill you, throw you in jail or confiscate your property” is the one time this principle doesn’t apply. On the other hand, if every one refused to compromise/sacrifice their values the rest of the time, we wouldn’t have decayed to the point where all these thugs have this ultimatum power in the first place. We would be ruled by law.

    “When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by scoundrels?and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.”-Ayn Rand

  15. He should offer to raise his food prices in order to increase food revenue. Then he can throw up his hands in wonderment when food revenue declines.

    1. That’s awesome.

  16. Wait a minute! Couldn’t he just reverse launder the money? Just get a bunch of shills to run up a food tab, and have his place “robbed” occasionally to get rid of the extra taxable income.

  17. Or better, increase the bartender’s “partnership” share.

  18. I recall nightclubs in Virginia which got around similar rules by offering free cheap-food buffets, and the cover charge was considered the cost of the buffet. But that wouldn’t work in a bar with no cover.

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