As they say in Brooklyn, it hadda happen. The shell-shocked economy has caught up with the last, best, once-untouchable freebie: endless refills of your coffee cup in a restaurant.

Dick Morrison of Falls Church got his refills, all right. He says he and a companion each drank three cups of coffee before, during and after dinner on the evening of Sept. 30.

The management of the restaurant in question, Giacomo's of Georgetown, says it was more like six cups apiece. Regardless, there is no disagreement about what Dick's bill said.

Eight bucks.

For "beverages."

The ensuing debate was polite at first. Dick asked the waiter what in the name of fettucine alfredo was going on here. The waiter said he just worked there; the captain had made him do it.

The captain was summoned. Things got less polite. Then things got to the edge of impolite. Finally, in classic Washington fashion, there was a compromise: an adjusted charge of $4 for "beverages," or $2 apiece. Which Dick paid.

Prem Devadas, assistant manager of the Wellington Hotel, which houses Giacomo's, said he "greatly regrets" the episode. "People come here to eat and to have a good time, and that's what we want to encourage," he said. "If they want to drink coffee when they're here, we want them to do so at a fair price."

Nevertheless, "the standard practice at Giacomo's is for people to pay for what they consume," Devadas said. He noted that the price for a cup of coffee, published in the menu, is $1.25. Even if you accept Dick Morrison's estimate of three cups of coffee a person, that should have cost $7.50, not the $4 that Dick ended up paying, Devadas pointed out.

Dick Morrison hasn't lost his taste for coffee as a result of his negotiated settlement, and he hasn't necessarily lost his taste for Giacomo's. If the spirit moves him, Dick says, he might go back.

When and if he does, I hope he'll come back with an answer to this question:

Why, when bread is free, when water is free, when sugar and cream and butter and sour cream are free, can't a restaurant make coffee free, too?