Virginia ABC gets slightly less archaic

It’s not often that I get to give the Virginia ABC credit for doing something right, so I’m happy to pass this along:

Peter Pflug says he should be able to charge more for mixed drinks at his restaurant and bar in Clarendon, but a long-standing food-to-liquor ratio has hindered his wishes.

The owner of Clarendon Grill was busted by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) a few years ago for failing to maintain the required food-to-liquor ratio — the same time he noticed the nighttime crowd in Arlington County was acquiring a taste for pricier liquor. […]

But that has caused the food-to-liquor ratio to get out of whack in more affluent places such as Arlington because “you can get away with selling $12 martinis as opposed to other parts of the state where you can’t,” Pflug said.

To better balance the 45-to-55 food-to-liquor ratio, Pflug and 11 other Virginia restaurant operators have joined ABC’s two-year pilot project to test an alternative way to calculate the ratio for mixed beverage licensees.

Rather than comparing the percentage of food sales to mixed-beverage sales, the pilot is based on alcohol volume. Participating licensees can sell $350 of food per one gallon of alcohol bought from ABC. Beer and wine aren’t included in either equation.

It’s nice to see that Arlington is trending toward more liquor sales and an appreciation for better spirits and cocktails. However having to tailor one’s menu to result in a ratio of $350 food/one gallon of alcohol is still an absurd way to run a restaurant; this kind of regulation is one reason among many that I can’t imagine ever opening a bar in Virginia. It would be much smarter to eliminate ratios entirely and simply require that food is available to patrons who want it.

[Thanks to Brandon Arnold for the link!]

Brown and Bragg take on the ABC
Banning beer pong
Banning beer popsicles
Banning sangria


Government not at work

Patrick Emerson takes note of an email from the amazing Portland pub and beer shop Belmont Station:

A FULL 16 ounce PINT EVERY TIME. You asked for it, we’re delivering. We are now using oversize glasses with a 16 ounce line. Be patient. Let it settle a moment. If it’s not 16 ounces we’ll top it up. More beer for you. Less waste!

Meanwhile, in my previous home of Arlington, VA, local music hotspot Iota has implemented a new house policy:

IOTA Club & Café celebrated two milestones in March, with the Arlington venue marking its 15th year in business and also delivering the news that it would be going smoke free. […] The club went non-smoking on March 15th (its actual anniversary) getting a head start on Virginia’s smoking ban, which doesn’t take effect until December 1st. Co-owner Jane Negrey Inge said the idea had been in the works for a while and the anniversary seemed like a natural time to do it. She added that smokers are still welcomed on the club’s back patio.

Both businesses made the changes to keep their customers happy, no coercion required. Imagine that!

[Thanks to Dan for the Iota tip!]

Is there such a thing as a dishonest pint?
Liberty Tavern not so keen on liberty


Murky remembrances


I can still remember my first encounter with the coffee shop at 3211 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, VA, which is surprising since I didn’t actually go into it. I was visiting DC on college spring break — in those days that seemed to me a fun destination — and meeting a friend from the Institute for Humane Studies for dinner in Clarendon to talk about policy jobs in DC. He wasn’t a coffee drinker and so the place barely merited a mention from him as we walked briskly by, yet I felt an almost gravitational attraction to it. It was, I thought, the kind of shop where I could happily spend a lot of time.

It turns out I was very, very wrong for thinking I would enjoy working in public policy, but the coffee shop became more significant to me than I’d ever imagined. Back then it was called Common Grounds and when I returned to DC for my first internship a few months later I immediately sought it out. It became my escape from the depressing realization that I had no real interest in the career I’d been working towards. Nearly every night I’d come home, change out of my business attire, and walk the two miles uphill to relax with coffee and a couple of books. Though I was rarely joined by anyone I knew, I enjoyed the sense of community one feels in a busy cafe even when alone.

I returned to Virginia following college graduation for lack of any better plan, my new apartment just three blocks from Common Grounds. I applied for a job there following one more failed attempt at enjoying public policy. When I checked in a few weeks later, the manager admitted that they’d lost my application. This turned out to be a moot point, for the shop was about to be sold to Nick Cho of Murky Coffee. For some reason Nick hired me.


Nick has an intense passion for coffee and he passed that on to me on my first day of training at his existing Capitol Hill location. He gave us new employees twenty bucks and sent us down the street to Starbucks to order whatever we liked. Then we came back to experience the same drinks the Murky way. I’d consumed thousands of coffee beverages and spent countless nights in coffee shops, but I’d never paid close attention to what was in the cups. This all changed when I watched Nick deftly pour perfectly textured milk into espresso, a lovely rosetta forming on the surface of the cappuccino as if by magic. I’d never seen or tasted anything like it. To this day the memory informs my work as a barista and bartender; the best gift I can give new customers is recreating that feeling of astonishment that comes from witnessing a mundane drink transformed into something wonderful.

I spent only eight months working at Murky but I continued as a customer far longer. The friendships and relationships that bloomed there are the reason I stayed in Virginia for as long as I did. Our cast of characters — a Pilates instructor, an opera singer, and a medical consultant, among others — formed a welcome community outside the cocooned world of politics. Every Sunday we gathered for coffee and a late lunch. This ritual was so valuable to me that for the year following when I worked at Open City my only requirement was that I claim the painfully early Sunday morning 5:30 am barista shift; I felt it necessary to get off in time to meet for coffee at Murky, despite spending the entire morning working the same model espresso machine and serving exactly the same blend.

I wrote above that I felt a gravitational pull to the shop. Looking back at the five apartments I lived in during my time in Virginia, I realize I was literally in orbit around it. Murky is in red, my various apartments in blue.


That’s no coincidence. Though I moved frequently and made many compromises, always being within a short walk or bike ride from my favorite coffee shop was an essential amenity.

Many people drifted in and out of our circle of regulars over the years. By the time I packed for Oregon just two of our original crew were left, meeting every Sunday to drink coffee and smoke cigars at the green light pole. Like many things at Murky, the pole was weathered and useless, existing mostly to annoy people trying to park their cars around it. Yet it was charming in its way and was the perfect place to prop up our feet and light a couple stogies in the breeze.

Hanging out at ye old green pole

If I could be there today, that’s exactly what I’d be doing. This Sunday was Murky’s last day open for business. Nick and his staff are opening a new shop, Wrecking Ball Coffee, in downtown DC. The space at 3211 Wilson Blvd. will soon become a bakery, the newest sleek addition to Clarendon’s redevelopment. Murky’s end removes one more of my tethers to the city. The thought of moving back to Arlington is now less tempting.

I could go on, but the important thing for me is saying thanks to Nick and the Murky community. Thanks for teaching me how to taste, for showing me the beauty in craft, and for giving me a place to call home in Virginia. You’ll be missed, and I wish you the best of luck in your new venture.


When beer pong is outlawed…

A few years ago the busybodies at the Virginia ABC — some of the busiest busybodies in the country — decided to ban beer pong and other drinking games in county bars. Naturally people didn’t stop playing beer pong, they just played the game at home instead. This upsets some of the area’s more staid residents:

County Board members have directed staff to look into complaints that drinking games are getting out of hands.

Bluemont resident James Thorne said that, since the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) board banned drinking games (such as “beer pong”) from bars and eateries, they have gravitated toward outdoor areas, such as outside local homes.

“It affects our quality of life,” Thorne said of the resulting noise.

Thorne asked board members to consider an ordinance change that would give county police the ability to request that such drinking games be moved indoors.

Of course residents have a right not to be excessively disturbed by their neighbors. That’s what existing noise ordinances are for. A law specifically targeting drinking games would be superfluous and unfairly target young people, likely giving cops the power to shut down their parties without having to reasonably apply standard noise ordinances.

Stogie Guy Patrick Semmens is fighting the proposal at his new website, Arlington residents should follow the issue there.


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 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 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?


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?


Last capp

Classic Capp at Murky

It ends where it begins, with a cappuccino at Murky Coffee. It’s the place where I’ve spent more hours than any other in Virginia, made some of my closest friends, escaped the DC policy scene, and discovered my love of coffee and crafting a quality a drink. Without it, there’s no way I would have lasted five years here, and it’s the community I’ll miss the most while I’m on the road.

Hanging out at ye old green pole

Now, west.


Spotted at Boccato

I stopped by Boccato, the new gelato shop in Clarendon, last night for some refreshing dessert. The really exciting thing was lurking in the corner though: a not yet hooked up two group Synesso espresso machine, two espresso grinders, and a pour-over coffee bar. At the Yelp page the owner says, “Get ready for our coffee and loose leaf tea service coming July..!!! Mindblowing!!!” Sounds like there could finally be a great new coffee shop in the neighborhood, just in time for me to move a couple thousand miles away.

Check it out at 2719 Wison Blvd. Arlington, VA 22201, just across the street from the Whole Foods.