District investigators take on alcohol portions

February 17, 2013

Are there 5 ounces of wine in that glass?

If not, restaurants and bars could face fines of up to $2,000, according to District rules.

Restaurant and bar owners along the H Street Corridor in Northeast Washington said they were caught off guard when investigators from the District’s Office of Weights & Measures stopped by their establishments, a case of beakers in hand, to measure beer, wine and liquor pourings on Feb. 9.

The Big Board, Granville Moore’s and Boundary Road were among the restaurants visited.

“I’ve been in this industry for 18 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said one restaurant owner who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to provoke inspectors. “They were here for about an hour and a half measuring our drinks and pitchers.”


(Courtesy of bigstockphoto)

The investigation was held in response to complaints from customers who said they were not receiving advertised amounts of alcohol.

“The requirements have been in place for quite some time, although they may not be well known by every bar [or] restaurant,” said Hilder Gil, a spokesman for the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. “That’s why the outreach was purely educational, and no fines or citations were issued.”

Several owners said they were told there would be repeat inspections that could result in $2,000 fines for underpouring.

“The general consensus is that it was a little bit excessive and kind of unwarranted,” said Matt Cordes, who owns the Atlas Room on H Street NE, but was not visited by the inspectors. “It’s an unnecessary burden on business owners — we’ve been through all the regulations and approvals, and we pay a hefty tax margin of 10 percent on our sales.”

Gil, the District spokesman, said he was not sure exactly how long the rules had been in place.

Many owners in the District, from Restaurant Nora to Vinoteca, said they had not been aware of any such requirements.

“I have never heard of anything like that,” said Kera Carpenter, who owns Domku in Petworth. “I guess I have to carry my measuring cup around with me now.

“What about dessert wines?,” asked Jamie Smith, general manager of Veritas Wine Bar in Northwest Washington. “We always pour less of those because they’re sweet and heavy.”

Businesses are also required to register all measuring devices with the District every year. Using a measuring device before it has been inspected or registered results in a $2,000 fine.

“We have customers that eagle-eye what we’re pouring,” said Kelli Walbourn, general manager of Palena in Cleveland Park. “But I never knew the District was interested.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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