DC’s anti-bar bias

Washington, DC blog 14th and You has a great post up today about consistent anti-alcohol bias in the city’s local government, this time directed against a popular U St. bar by politicians not even representing that neighborhood:

Thanks to a recent article in the Dupont Current, we learned of Saint-Ex owner John Snellgrove’s attempt to convert the liquor license of his business from a restaurant-class license to a tavern. The reason, according to Snellgrove, is that “keeping a chef on premises until two hours before closing time [as necessitated by the restaurant-class liquor law] makes no financial sense.” So he’s seeking to convert Saint-Ex’s license to that of a “tavern” which would significantly loosen the restrictions on the hours of food service. […]

… never mind that Saint-Ex doesn’t even reside within [Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Ramon] Estrada’s ANC — he led the charge for a unanimous vote (with one abstention) by the Dupont ANC to protest them anyway. And yet, the most absurd statement made by Estrada must be this:

“On its face, I cannot accept that you can’t keep your kitchen open until two hours before closing.” To which I say: On its face, I cannot accept advice on running a food-serving establishment from someone who never has.

Go read the whole thing for more frustration with regulators who are standing in the way of a business that’s helped revitalize the U St. corridor.

[Thanks to Kyle for the link!]


Drinking too locally

Which state has the most breweries per capita? I thought it might be Oregon, my new home state, but the honor goes elsewhere [via Rob Kasper]:

The great state of Vermont tops the list of U.S. state breweries per capita based on the Brewers Association’s count of operating breweries and the 2008 population estimates found at www.census.gov. The fortunate citizens of Vermont have a brewery for every 32,698 people. There are 19 breweries and 621,270 citizens in Vermont. Additionally, every Vermont brewery is a craft brewery according the Brewers Association’s craft brewer definition, from small start-up microbrewery Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Warren to the revered Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington to regional craft brewer Magic Hat Brewing Co. and Performing Arts Center also in Burlington. The top 5 states in breweries per capita are rounded out by Montana, Oregon, Maine and Colorado.

Well, at least we’re in the top five. But what does this mean for the consumer, anyway? Is this really Beervana?

It certainly seemed to be when I first arrived here. Locally brewed ales were available at every pub I went to. And they were so cheap! $2.50 wouldn’t buy a pint of Bud Light in DC, much less a quality craft brew. Portland seemed like heaven.

But as time went on, the initial euphoria wore off and all the beers started to run together in my memory. They were good, but often failed to stand out from one another.

And that’s when I started getting nostalgic about the DC beer scene. The beer selection at an average DC bar is terrible, the prices are too high, and there are no good local brewers that I’m aware of. But the bars that try a little harder offer some of the best beers from throughout the Eastern US. Dogfish Head in Delaware, Brooklyn in New York, Allagash in Maine, and Bell’s in Michigan stand out particularly as innovative, relatively large craft brewers who make consistently good beer in a wide variety of styles, and they’re all distributed fairly well within the city.

On top of this DC went though a welcome Belgian invasion over the past few years. Newcomers Birreria Paradiso, Brasserie Beck, Granville Moore’s, and Rustico in Alexandria are amazing, offering a wide array of imports and some of the best American craft brews (Marvin too, apparently, though I haven’t been there). DC has become a fantastic city for beer drinkers despite having very little beer culture of its own.

To some extent, I think DC’s poverty of local brewers has been an advantage, freeing local bars to open their taps to the best brewers they can find, no matter where they come from. In this respect it is a surprisingly good beer city and I often miss its best destinations and my favorite eastern brews. (A similar dynamic is at work in New York City’s coffee scene, which in just a few years has gone from dismal to one of the best in the country. In addition to there being a few local players, NYC consumers benefit from competition among Stumptown, Intelligentsia, and Counter Culture to get into the top cafes.)

Oregonians, in contrast, take pride in drinking locally. And while there are many great local brews, my outsider’s impression is that this allows some good but unremarkable beers to skate by. There are benefits from showing tough love and a willingness to abandon the home team that don’t show up in a measure of breweries per capita.

None of which is to say that this isn’t an incredible city for beer drinkers. It’s certainly better than the District; even the place I get my haircut in Portland offers better beer than what’s found in many DC bars. There are more Oregon beers to try than I could possibly handle (though it’s fun to attempt it). So while at the margin I’d like to see a little less local dominance of the taps here, I’m more interested in finding out what I should sample next. Ninkasi and Caldera are especially good breweries that I’d never encountered before moving here, and Belmont Station’s unbelievable retail selection takes care of a lot of hard to find bottles. What else am I missing? What are the Oregon beers I should seek out immediately?


Skip the drip

Amanda at Metrocurean reports that a new coffee shop called Mid-City Cafe is coming to Logan Circle in DC. They’ll be serving Counter Culture Coffee and not brewing drip; all the coffee will be from pour overs or French presses.

The biggest advantage for the coffee in Portland over what I got at my favorite shops in DC is that many places here don’t brew drip at all. For about $1 a cup I can get fresh, full-bodied French press coffee any time of day. It’s a little more work for the shop, but the difference in quality is worth it and I actively avoid any cafe that defaults to drip. Hopefully this is the start of a trend in that direction in DC.


The right’s recession

I’ve complained often about the job market in Portland, but things may not have been much better for me even in recession-proof DC (though of course I could have just kept my job there). Elizabeth Nolan Brown covers the dim prospects for libertarian/conservative writers and activists: politicians are out of power, publications are closing down, and donations to non-profits are taking hits.

At her blog she also breaks the disappointing news that Doublethink is shutting down its print operation, going online only.


DC tries for a trans-fat ban

Mary Cheh, the DC councilwoman who wants mandatory letter grades outside of restaurants, also introduced a bill to ban trans-fats from the city’s restaurants because DC has an inferiority complex about New York City and California to save lives. This is dumb, obviously, but it’s an occasion to bring up San Francisco’s surprisingly more sensible approach (made irrelevant by California’s coming statewide ban):

[…] restaurant owners who prove they serve nothing containing trans fats will get bragging rights in the form of a decal with a green heart emblazoned with a silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge and the words “Trans Fat Free San Francisco Restaurant.”

The sticker – which is so attractive it’s worthy of framing, according to one public health official – will cost restaurant owners $250 and time spent documenting every ingredient they serve. Or, they can pay the inspector $150 an hour (time-and-a-half after hours and on weekends) to document everything in the kitchen for them.

That tells customers what they might want to know, preserves choice, and brings in some revenue for the city. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give city councilors that electric thrill of banning something they disapprove of, so I doubt a proposal like that would pass in DC.

Also, the “suitable for framing” line quoted above confirms my contention that food regulators have no sense of aesthetics.

Paul Roberts and I debated food bans in the LA Times last summer.


If you’re buying…

The restaurant business is down all across the country. “Extreme solicitousness tinged with outright desperation” is how Frank Bruni described the mood at many of New York City’s top restaurants right now. So how are things going in DC? Amanda McClements at Metrocurean decided to take an unscientific poll at OpenTable. Here’s what came of her attempts to snag prime time Saturday night reservations at some of her favorite restaurants two days in advance:

• Blue Duck Tavern: booked
• Central: booked
• CityZen: booked
• Marvin: booked
• Proof: booked
• Citronelle: booked
• The Source: booked
• Rasika: 6:15 p.m.
• Bourbon Steak: 6 or 9:15 p.m.
• Corduroy: 5:30 or 9 p.m.
• Sei: 6:30 or 9 p.m.
• Westend: 6 or 9 p.m.

It must be nice to have an economy built on spending other people’s money (politicians, government employees) or spending your own to get even more taken away from someone else (lobbyists).

My friend Radley Balko wrote about Washington’s worrying wealth boom for FOX earlier this year.


Membership has its privileges

Richard Morrison at CEI points out this story about DC Councilman Jack Evans introducing special legislation to exempt a private club from the city’s smoking ban — a club of which he just happens to be a member:

The city’s smoke-free law provides an economic hardship waiver for struggling bars and restaurants, Evans said, but it leaves no wiggle room for a single event, like the St. Patrick’s Day gala or Fight Night at the Washington Hilton.

“Once a year, 1,000-plus people go there to drink Irish whiskey, smoke cigars and have dinner,” Evans said of the dinner. “Now they’re not allowed to do that. From my reading of the law there’s no other way to get an exemption but to legislate.” […]

At-large Councilman David Catania, chairman of the health committee, will not move Evans’ legislation or any other exemption proposal, one Catania aide told The Examiner Wednesday. The ban, the aide said, “has been a huge success.”

Evans responded that he might move the measure as an emergency to skirt Catania’s panel. He would need nine votes to get it through the whole body. He’s got one in Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells.

“Absolutely no concern,” Wells said. “I think that having some flexibility is part of good government.”

Evans has discovered the pain of having one’s treasured tradition banned by a bunch of meddling bureaucrats. I’d be sympathetic if not for the fact that Evans is one of those meddling bureaucrats. If he doesn’t like the law, he should introduce changes that open up smoking venues to everyone, not just to clubs that happen to have a city councilman in their membership.

My Crispy on the Outside co-blogger Baylen wrote about DC’s practically meaningless hardship waivers for Culture11 last month.


Minor rebellion

My friends at Grape and Bean have won a small victory against the strict code regulations in Alexandria, VA and made it into USA Today for their troubles:

When David Gwathmey and his wife opened their coffee and wine bar in Alexandria, Va.’s “Old Town” section, he defied a ban on sidewalk signs to try to steer customers their way. Now that the city has eased its restriction, what Gwathmey did surreptitiously, he can do in the daylight. Already, he has seen the difference.

“It definitely drives foot traffic,” says Gwathmey, 38, noting that the sign may have boosted the number of weekend visitors to his shop, Grape + Bean, by 20%. “This is a very strong statement and action that supports (the city’s) claim to want to support small businesses.”

Alexandria is one of several communities that have lifted or are considering loosening restrictions on sidewalk signs and banners to help shore up businesses struggling to survive a recession that has slowed consumer spending and depleted municipal tax revenue.

Grape and Bean is one block off the main strip of King St. in Alexandria, so it was easy to miss without the sidewalk sign. Check them out if you’re in the area.


Liberty Tavern not so keen on liberty

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is predictably pushing once again for a comprehensive statewide smoking ban. Not so predictably, he’s teamed up with the owners of Clarendon’s Liberty Tavern to launch his campaign:

This year, he believes momentum is on his side. At a news conference Tuesday at a Clarendon tavern, Kaine said the public is increasingly supportive of such bans…

Stephen Fedorchak, owner of The Liberty Tavern, the restaurant where Kaine held his news conference, said he has been in the business long enough to know smoking was once entrenched in bars and restaurants. But those days have passed, he said.

He said he does not regret the decision to ban smoking in his restaurant and said these days “smokers are somewhat used to going out in a … fresh-air environment” and no longer assume they will be allowed to light up.

I was something of a regular at Liberty when it opened in 2007 and nearly became an employee (they offered me a job, but I wasn’t comfortable with the time commitment). It was an unofficial home for many libertarian-minded people in the area and was among the handful of bars I revisited when back in town last month. That, however, was my last beer there. I sent them the following letter this afternoon:

I was disappointed to hear today that Liberty Tavern is teaming up with Governor Kaine to push for a statewide smoking ban. I’m happy that you’ve chosen to make your business smokefree and have found customers who welcome the clean air. You’ve set an admirable example for other Virginia businesses. So please, leave them free to try it on their own. It’s a sad irony that a place called the “Liberty Tavern” is now attempting to force its policy onto every other bar and restaurant in the state.

Though I’ve enjoyed the food and drink at your bar in the past, I value my freedom of choice even more. From now on when I’m in Virginia I’ll be exercising mine at Arlington’s many other worthwhile establishments.

Their email address is info@thelibertytavern.com. Take a minute to let them know how you feel.

For an alternative bar, try out EatBar and Tallula if you haven’t already been. Liberty Tavern’s only real advantage over this nearby competitor is proximity to the Metro. EatBar’s food is the equal or better of anything at Liberty, the beer selection is bigger and better, the wine list is far larger, and the crowd features fewer lame young professionals. Even if you don’t like the fact that they allow smoking in the small back room, you can appreciate that they don’t think every other restaurant in Virginia should be forced to do the same.

One other note on the proposed ban: Kaine is always careful to refer to this as a ban on smoking in “restaurants.” Technically, that’s true. That’s because there is no such thing as a bar in Virginia. According to ABC regulations, all businesses that serve on-premise alcohol are required to sell significant amounts of food. Casual listeners are likely to interpret the proposal as a supposedly reasonable restriction on restaurants that leaves bars free to set their own policies. It’s hard to view his word choice as anything but intentionally misleading. Since what he’s really pushing is a smoking ban in all businesses, he should say so directly.

Update 1/7/09: Thanks to Radley Balko, former bartender and former smoker Jonathan Blanks, and Suetonius at Freedom and Shit for spreading the word. Good job!

Update 1/8/09: And now David Boaz at the Cato blog, Andrew Roth at the Club for Growth, and Caleb Brown at Catallaxy.

Update 1/9/09: Fr33 Agents threw in with the boycott, leading to coverage this morning at Washington City Paper’s blog.

Don’t need no stinkin’ bans!


Don’t need no stinkin’ bans!

Chad sends in a blog post noticing that Arlington, VA bars and restaurants are trending smokefree in the absence of legislation:

They said Arlington’s bars would never voluntarily go smoke-free … then Liberty Tavern did and places like Eleventh, Union Jacks, and Clarendon Grill soon followed.

They said sports bars would never go smoke-free … then Summers created a separate smoke-free bar, followed by Four Courts and Crystal City Sports Pub, and Thirsty Bernie’s opened entirely smoke-free.

Now Arlington’s best diner, Bob & Edith’s at Columbia Pike & S. Wayne St., is going 100% smoke-free.

Arlington makes an interesting test case. It’s one of the wealthiest, most liberal cities in the country, and residents would surely approve a smoking ban if they were allowed to. Fortunately they’re restrained by Virginia law that forbids local anti-smoking ordinances to exceed the state’s own rules. Every year a statewide ban is introduced in the senate and immediately shot down by the tobacco-friendly house.

The fact that popular bars and established restaurants are voluntarily choosing to restrict smoking shows that ban opponents have been right all along: given demand for smokefree environments, profit-seeking business owners will eventually provide them, if not as immediately as a legislative ban would. And as someone who generally prefers bars with clean air, I think that’s fantastic — as long as dive bars like Jay’s or the backroom cigar lounge at EatBar remain free to set their own policies too.

The same has been true in Portland, another city one might have expected to institute a smoking ban long ago. Even before the statewide ban went into effect last week I noticed there were far more smokefree bars here than in other places I’ve lived. I checked the directory at SmokeFreeOregon.com and the site listed more than 400 establishments within the city limits. That was hardly a lack of choice for non-smokers.

At best, one could make the case for nudging businesses to go smokefree with one-time tax breaks to speed up adoption of the policy. Otherwise, leave people free to associate on their own terms and they’ll eventually figure out ways to accommodate each other. There’s no need for coercion.

The magic of politics
Why aren’t more bars smokefree?


A Repeal Day for the ages

Free to Booze Bar

With the end of December almost here, it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to that big Repeal Day wrap-up I had planned. Luckily Tom Pearson’s all over it with Repeal Day and post-Repeal Day entries, so check over at his site for the links. See also Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s adventures in DC and “libertarian kind of guy” Lance Mayhew’s thoughtful reflections about Prohibition and the growth of government.

I was in DC too, kicking off the day at Cato’s Free to Booze event. I wasn’t able to watch the forum, being too busy setting up the bar in the lobby and teaching the interns some practical skills like how to juice citrus for 200 people. Thanks to their help, spirit donations from DISCUS, and a very last minute purchase of sweet vermouth, Jeff and I were able to mix up some tasty vintage cocktails for the thirsty mob. Here’s what we served:

Manhattan: Bulleit Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters
One of the first uses of vermouth in a cocktail and a true classic to this day

Martinez: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Maraschino Liqueur, and Orange Bitters
Forgotten cousin of the Dry Martini, also born of America’s love affair with vermouth

Sidecar: Hennessy VS Cognac, Cointreau, and Lemon
An early mix of spirit, orange liqueur, and citrus, a versatile combination enjoyed today in the Margarita and Cosmopolitan

Aviation: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Lemon, Maraschino, and Crème de Violette
A beautiful classic regaining popularity thanks to new imports of violet liqueur

Stone Fence: Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Cider, Angostura Bitters
Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys drank a rustic version of this drink before storming Fort Ticonderoga. What are you gonna do?

Sazerac: Hennessy VS Cognac, Pernod aux extraits de plantes d’absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters, Angostura Bitters, and Sugar
Vintage New Orleans cocktail; though originally made with cognac, rye whiskey became standard in the 1870s

Pegu Club: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Cointreau, Lime, Orange Bitters, and Angostura Bitters
A refreshing gin drink published in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) and credited to the Pegu Club in Burma

Jeff and I had a great time making the drinks. I hadn’t worked a busy bar shift since leaving Open City in March, so getting back into the groove and working through a long line of orders felt great. One of my favorite moments of the night was informing a person who ordered a vodka tonic that we had neither vodka nor tonic. Working with a limited bar and a small menu let us put the focus on introducing people to new experiences and I think we opened a few eyes to well-crafted cocktails.

If you missed the Cato event, it’s too late to make you a drink but you can catch video of the policy forum online. Organizer Brandon Arnold also recorded a podcast for the occasion.

Following a nice dinner with friends, I went off to DC Craft Bartenders Guild’s fantastic Repeal Day celebration, featuring drinks from some of the DC’s best mixologists. Then we took the afterparty to Gibson, the new speakeasy off U St. As Jeff notes, some of these speakeasy themed bars stand on ceremony to the point of inconvenience. At one I watched the host make a woman search her Blackberry for her forgotten codeword before granting entrance, despite the fact that every table but my own was unoccupied. There’s none of that nonsense at Gibson. There the focus is entirely on serving wonderful drinks in a comfortable, relaxed environment. And the drinks really are excellent. If you’re in DC, it’s absolutely worth visiting. I just wish it had opened before I moved across the country.

This Repeal Day will be hard to top, but the 100th anniversary is just 25 years away. It’s hard to predict what will happen then. Perhaps there will be blowback against the nanny state’s current excesses. Maybe we’ll finally overturn some of our outdated alcohol distribution laws. Given all the momentum in the craft movement right now, I’m hopeful we’ll see even broader interest in mixology and be closer to overcoming Prohibition’s legacy of crap cocktails. Whatever happens, we’re going to have one hell of a party.


Most missed in DC/NOVA

This morning I’ll be hopping on a plane from Portland and flying to DC, returning for the first time since leaving in August. I miss the place more than I expected to. I miss my friends, though with all your Tweets it sometimes feels like I’ve never left. I miss the constant happy hours and the intellectual engagement. I miss biking; I’m surprised to be driving my car here in Portland more than I ever did in Virginia. And of course I miss the food. Here’s a list of some of the places I’m hoping to get back to. Not the best places necessarily, just the ones I subjectively miss the most.

EatBar — This place combines the feel of a true neighborhood bar with a real commitment to quality. The food is always excellent, the beer list is solid, and Gina Chersevani has made the cocktails superb as well. The smoke-friendly back room is one of my favorite spots in Virginia; when the winter made our outdoor Sunday cigars impossible, this was our refuge. I spent a year living around the corner in a crappy, run down apartment. EatBar was one of two places that made that worthwhile. The other was…

El Charrito — This unassuming Salvadoran and Mexican restaurant caters equally to construction workers and white collar professionals, serving up $2 cabrito tacos, great burritos, and fried plantains. It was a block from my house. My current apartment is much nicer than my old one, but all I’ve got here are Burgerville, Subway, and Red Robin.

Murky Coffee — Where everybody knows my name, where I first got into coffee, and where I first started not hating DC. If not for Murky, I would have left the city back in 2005. (Thanks, Nick!)

Grape and Bean — I loved working here. They got their on-premise beer and wine license after I left, so I’m looking forward to getting back and seeing how it all worked out.

Crisp and Juicy — Of the many rotisserie chicken places in Northern Virginia, this was by far my favorite. Super Pollo was convenient. Pollo Rico was good, but serving steak fries instead of yuca takes it down a notch. Crisp and Juicy was, very strangely, the site of my first date with me previous girlfriend. I dream of their chicken.

Kabob Bazaar — Mondays and Fridays, ghormeh sabzhi. That’s all you need to know.

Birreria Paradiso — This basement bar is where I had my eyes opened to beer and was the only reason I’d go to Georgetown at night. I had Belgian ales and barley wines for the first time here and regret that I rarely went back after leaving my job at nearby Baked and Wired.

Baked and Wired — Speaking of B&W, I do miss their chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting. How did I get by having these for breakfast for so many months? They never tasted better than the night I spent closing down Paradiso and sleeping on the floor of the coffee shop to be there for the opening barista shift.

Rustico — My other favorite beer place, and damn good food too.

Brasserie Beck — My other other favorite beer place. You’ve gotta respect a joint that’s pure Belgian and has a beer knight (Le Chevalarie du Fourquet des Brasseurs) running their list. The apple curry mussels are how mussels pray to be treated in the afterlife.

Eamonn’s — Come for the fish and chips, stay for the batter burger. Oh yeah, and there’s a speakeasy on top.

El Rinconcito and the Korean cart on 14th and L — Lobbyists have no taste. Cato’s office is close to K Street. Therefore, despite our proximity to Chinatown, there wasn’t much good ethnic food in the area. These two were notable exceptions.

Pho 75 — I can get good Vietnamese food here, but Pho 75 is still my favorite; it got me out of countless hangovers when I lived in Court House.

Nam-Viet — If I were smart, I would have scheduled this trip during soft-shell crab season.

Five Guys — Suck it, In-n-Out. NOVA’s cultish burger franchise puts you to shame.

China Express — Just a typical American takeout Chinese restaurant, but they were good at it in a city where people often weren’t and the owners were always incredibly friendly.

Open City — They put up with my first experimentation behind the bar, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

PS7 — I didn’t go as often after Tiffany left the bar, but their happy hour is one of the best around. Few do cocktails and food as well as they do.

There’s no way I’m getting to all these places this weekend, plus there’s a few newcomers I’m eager to visit: Peregrine Espresso, Source, Commonwealth, and Gibson come to mind. What else am I missing?


Free to Booze

Do you have plans for Repeal Day yet? This year’s the big one, the 75th Anniversary of the 21st Amendment. Cato’s marking the occasion with what looks to be a fun and informative policy forum:

Featuring Michael Lerner, author of Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City; Glen Whitman, author of Strange Brew: Alcohol and Government Monopoly; Asheesh Agarwal, Former Assistant Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy Planning; and Radley Balko, Senior Editor, Reason. Moderated by Brandon Arnold, Cato Institute.

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thus ending our nation’s failed experiment with Prohibition. Organized crime flourished during Prohibition, but what were the other effects of the national ban on alcohol? How and why was it repealed? Please join the Cato Institute for a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition and a discussion of its legacy and continuing impact on America. Drinks will be served following the discussion.

Note the “drinks will be served” line. These won’t be just the usual Cato beer and wine. Though we’re still working out the details, the plan is for me to be there mixing up a menu of classic pre-Prohibition cocktails.

But that’s not the best part. A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s bar in Eugene when he mentioned that he’ll be visiting DC the very same weekend. I told him about the Cato event and asked if he’d be interested in tending bar with me there. And lucky for us, he said yes. So you won’t just be getting drinks from this lowly libertarian cocktail blogger, but also from the man himself, Mr. Repeal Day, Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

It’s going to be a fun afternoon and we’d love to see you there. If you’re going to be in DC on December 5, RSVP for the event here, and be sure to also check out Jeff’s site RepealDay.org for more Repeal Day updates.


Have a ball in DC

OK, one more post about Rocky Mountain oysters, then I promise I’ll stop. Actually I don’t promise. But check out this photo at Amanda’s blog of the General Tso’s-coated mountain oysters currently on the menu at Firefly in Dupont Circle. A big step up from the big bowl of fried, floppy discs I enjoyed in Denver, don’t you think? Anyone in DC going to try them out?


Speakeasy shutdown

“If you are a member of the press/blogger/other media type person you are not permitted to write about our location or our operation in any way shape or form.” That was the first rule people who scored a reservation at DC speakeasy Hummingbird to Mars were required to abide by. Washington Post spirits writer Jason Wilson, whose job is to help Washingtonians drink better, publicized it anyway. Now the project is shutting down and DC drinkers have one fewer place to go for an outstanding cocktail. Bravo, Mr. Wilson.

(Serious ethics question: Is this not akin to reporting something a source explicitly asked to be off the record?)

The Best Bites Blog has the story here. Check out the video for an intriguing cocktail technique: using sous vide to infuse a liquor with spices, the airtight seal preventing any damage to the alcohol. That’s something I’d like to try.

Update: Jason Wilson clarifies in the comments that the real reason the speakeasy is shutting down has to do with the organizers’ busy schedules, not his column. So I apologize to him for getting that wrong (and for assuming the Washingtonian blog knew what it was talking about). He also says:

No, it’s actually nothing like a source asking for a conversation to be off the record. The rules clearly stated that if I chose the break those rules, I might be “unwelcome” in the future. The same as if I chose to show up 45 minutes for a restaurant reservation, my table might be given away. Hummingbird to Mars is free to make me “unwelcome” at future events.

I’m not sure I buy that just attaching consequences to breaking an informal NDA makes it acceptable to do so. Unethical? Perhaps not. A dick move? Absent the permission or tacit approval of the bar, certainly.


So long, and thanks for all the bulgogi

David Boaz catches The Washington Post giving the DC government a little too much credit for the city’s booming street food scene:

The jump headline says, “With City’s Help, Vendors Break the Mold.” Author Tim Carman writes, “Both [new food] vendors still needed public assistance.” And “the city [has] been working with vendors to give hungry Washingtonians a taste of what they want.” All praise the D.C. government, font of good food.

But of course the city hasn’t produced the food. It hasn’t subsidized the vendors. It hasn’t put vendors together with investors. All it has done is to lift, in one part of the city, “regulations that have choked the life out of D.C.’s street food for decades.” There are licensing rules (and a moratorium on issuing any new licenses), prohibitions on hiring employees, cart size rules, regulations on where you can park a cart at night, and so on. So the “public assistance” the vendors received was to be exempted from some of the regulations, inside a 32-block demonstration zone.

It reminds me of the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau: “This government never furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of the way.”

Hey, I deserve credit for helping out the vendors too. I never once robbed them at gunpoint while they tried to run their businesses.

Not that I would. On the Fly’s tacos and the yellow cart’s bulgogi were a significant improvement to my life off K Street.

DC cart watch, public choice edition
DC cart watch: On the Fly tacos
Hot dogs and beyond


A boaring dinner menu

If I were still in Virginia I’d be all over this. Amanda reports on an upcoming dinner in Alexandria:

Jackson 20 will host its first bourbon and boar dinner — an event the restaurant hopes to make a monthly feature — at the chef’s table this Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 6:30 p.m. The six-course meal will be paired with bourbon cocktails, like the pictured Boartini, made from bacon-infused Blanton’s, Chambord, bitters and fresh raspberries. The cost is $75, not including taxes and gratuity.

Chef Jeff Armstrong’s menu for the evening includes various boar cuts like barbecued shoulder on carrot and cayenne slaw, cider-braised belly with roasted peaches, blackberry and sherry syrup, and grilled loin with sweet potato mash, juniper and onion relish.

I got to Jackson 20 for lunch once before leaving town. It has good food, a well-stocked bar, and is right around the corner from Grape and Bean and the newly opened Lavender Moon Cupcakery. If you’re one of those DC people who never heads into Virginia, you’re missing out.

From my guest blogging stint at The Agitator, how to baconify your bourbon.