[NOTE: as of February 2020, double fisting drinks is completely legal in DC.
In light of the recent revelation to many that dogs, in fact, are not allowed on patios in DC (though expect to change soon), I wanted to highlight the other laws/regulations on the books that you probably don’t know about that apply to DC bars. Blame me if you see these actually getting enforced (trust me-the bars know about these but most are not really enforced), though perhaps this can spur change.
No Double-Fisting Drinks at DC Bars Double-fisting (I expect some weird Google searches to find this site soon), that is, having a drink in each of your hands, is one way to be efficient in the consumption of alcohol. It is also not allowed in DC bars, ostensibly for safety reasons. Bars are prohibited from serving, in the parlance of the law, “back-up drinks” to patrons, which includes second drinks: served as part of a “two-for-one” promotion (which is why DC Reynolds give you a receipt for your second drink instead of giving you 2 at once) served just prior to last call or provided complimentary by the bar or purchased by other patrons. This rule is actually enforced by many bars, which is why you’ll often get asked by a bartender where the other people are you’re ordering for when buying multiple drinks. What about the ubiquitous beer-and-shot combo? Luckily, DC specifically allows “two different drinks served together such as a beer and a shot or any other industry drink that can be considered a shot and a mixer.” You can also order wine at dinner even if you haven’t finished your cocktail (Seriously: “The prohibition against back-up drinks shall also not apply to the service of wine with a meal where the patron has not finished a previously served cocktail.”).
Tap Handles Must Have Brand Name of Beer
This one is blatantly violated by some of DC’s top beer spots (one prominent restaurant group with heavy beer focus, in particular): bars/restaurants are prohibited from selling draft beer from any tap unless there is a clearly legible (from a distance of 10 feet away) inscription of the beer’s brand/trade name.
This is customer-friendly in one way (no need to consult a menu in a lot of spots, particularly if you like most beer a particular brand puts out), but, if this was actually enforced, it might make it tougher for DC bars to have the varieties and rarities they often have on tap (because tap handles aren’t always easy to get).
Bars Can’t Use Mother’s Day or Santa Claus to Promote Drinking
Now this is a weird one. Bars can’t use statements, pictures, or illustrations that refer to Easter, Holy Week, and religious holidays/symbols to promote alcohol sales/service/consumption. Sort of makes sense, kinda, though a bit antiquated. But they also can’t promote their drinks by referring to Mother’s Day or Santa Claus (or St. Nick, Kriss Kringle, etc.). Non-religious references to Christmas or other holidays are OK.
Ladies’ Nights (or Because this is DC, Equal Pay Nights) Are Verboten
The DC Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination by many businesses, including on basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business.
Although this doesn’t prohibit bars from turning away underage patrons, it does mean that it can’t treat men or women differently unless there’s a business necessity. The DC Attorney General even ruled that allowing 18-20 year old women to enter a bar, but not men (unless they buy a ticket) was a violation of this law. As a result, your favorite bar’s women-drink-for-79%-of-normal-price Equal Pay Night is probably a violation of this law (unless they don’t turn down a dude who asks for special).
You Can’t Walk Around Bar With Your Pitcher of Beer or Bottle of Liquor
Earlier this year, the ABRA Board issued a fun Advisory Opinion which highlighted another unknown provision: prohibition on removing pitcher of beer or large bottle of liquor (during bottle service). Under the Opinion and rule, bars cannot allow or permit patrons to actually leave their table, bar, or other seating area with their pitcher of beer or bottle of liquor. ABRA explained rationale for the rule:
to curb the practice of patrons wandering around the establishment with large containers containing multiple servings of alcoholic beverages. The Board finds this practice unsafe because large containers may be used as weapons during altercations…allowing patrons to wander inside the establishment with multiple servings of alcohol reduces the likelihood that the establishment can prevent the diversion of alcohol to minors or responsibly supervise the consumption of alcohol on the property.
As part of the Opinion, ABRA did clarify that it was OK to allow (1) patrons sitting or standing around the table, bar, or other seating area to drink, lift, and pour the pitcher/container; (2) patrons to get up or move within their immediate seating area with the container for the purposes of pouring it or taking a picture with it; or (3) patrons fill their cups or glasses from the pitcher/bottle and leave the area with their cup or glass.