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It’s a sultry Sunday night, and the Trevino brothers are celebrating summer with a pitcher of sangría. “It seems like the summer thing to do,” says Carlos Trevino, who’s “chilling out” with his brother Chris at La Tasca, a Spanish-themed restaurant in Clarendon.
The brothers came to La Tasca specifically for sangría, Chris says, and chose a pitcher of “Cadillac Red,” which, according to the menu, includes red wine and brandy. “It tastes pretty good,” Chris says, though “it doesn’t taste like it has brandy.” He’s right. La Tasca manager Daniela Schenone says the restaurant’s two Virginia outposts stopped serving brandy with their sangría about six months ago. Why? Because swilling traditional sangría is against the law in Virginia—and has been for decades. Beth Straeten, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, writes in an e-mail that sangría has been illegal since the state’s alcohol agency was created in 1934. According to Virginia code, any restaurant with a mixed-beverage license is prohibited from “selling wine to which spirits or alcohol, or both, have been added.” Restaurants are also barred from selling beer to which wine or spirits have been added. So no go on the boilermakers, either.
There’s more. Because Virginia is a “control state”—one of 18 (plus Montgomery and Worcester counties in Maryland) where the state, not private companies, distributes alcohol (see “Pain in the Glass” 2/8)— its code also prohibits “premixing,” which refers to storing alcohol in anything other than its original container. For that reason, sangría and other mixed drinks must be made to order, ABC spokesperson Kristy Smith says, unless the restaurant is using a special, ABC-approved frozen drink dispenser. That way, regulators can tell whether the alcohol was purchased at a Virginia ABC store, she says. And “violating the Sangría code” comes with a hefty penalty, Straeten writes; it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor, “punishable by a fine up to $2,500 or up to 12 months in jail.”
Smith says there have been “numerous” premixing violations found in Virginia over the years, including a relatively recent bust. On Dec. 5, 2006, Smith says, Virginia ABC “special agents” cited La Tasca at 607 King St. in Alexandria for two Sangría-related transgressions: premixing and combining wine with brandy. A hearing before the state’s alcohol board has not yet been scheduled, she says.
In the meantime, the two Virginia La Tascas have mixed up their sangría offerings, removing brandy and any other hard liquor from the fruity drink, says Schenone. But you wouldn’t know it by reading the menu. According to it, La Tasca serves 12 different types of sangría, ranging from Blanca, a sweet mix of peaches, brandy, and white wine, to Agua de Valencia, a tangy concoction of oranges, brandy, triple sec, orange juice, and sparkling wine. Schenone says new menus are on the way and servers are instructed to inform customers that their sangría is sans liquor. “All the staff knows they have to give the new description,” she says. “It’s the same thing as asking for an ID.”
Tony Yelamos, director of development for THINKfoodGROUP, which manages the three Jaleo restaurants—one each in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia—says he was unaware of the wine-and-liquor provision of Virginia law. Now that he knows about it, he says, the Crystal City restaurant will be tweaking its recipe. Jaleo’s menu lists cava, Liquor 43, brandy, and fresh fruit, or red wine, vodka, brandy, and fresh fruit, as the ingredients for its sangría, but he says he’ll be making the requisite changes to bring the Crystal City outpost into compliance with state law. He says sangría at the D.C. Jaleo, where there’s no such law banning the mixture of liquor and wine, will continue to contain brandy.
And that’s as it should be, says Virginia state delegate Adam Ebbin. He says it’s time for Virginia to wipe the sangría code off its books. “It’s an antiquated law, and I’d like to get it fixed,” he says. Ebbin, whose district includes parts of Arlington County, Alexandria, and Fairfax, said he learned about the law from a reporter at the suburban Connection newspaper chain and plans to introduce a bill in the 2008 legislative session that would carve out an exception for the Spanish cocktail. After all, “everyone should be able to drink sangría,” he says.
The Trevino brothers couldn’t agree more. They said they’d never heard of the law before, but they weren’t terribly surprised. “You’d expect something that stupid in Virginia,” Chris Trevino says.
What Would Starbucks Do?
In his crusade against the “Shopacolypse,” Bill Talen, aka the Reverend Billy, and his Church of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir sing lyrics like: “Stop that Starbucks not another…No your latte’s not my lover.”
For obvious reasons, Starbucks isn’t Reverend Billy’s biggest fan. So when the Silverdocs documentary festival selected What Would Jesus Buy? featuring Reverend Billy and his frugal flock to screen last week, Starbucks got a little spooked.
Starbucks sponsored Silverdocs last year and came on board to do so again, to the tune of $5,000, according to festival director Patricia Finneran. Like Silverdocs’ other sponsors, including the Washington City Paper, Starbucks would have its logo plastered on festival catalogs and guides.
However, according to Finneran, “Starbucks had concerns about this film because the subject of the film specifically targeted it.”
She says Starbucks representatives were “uncomfortable supporting the film in any way,” especially because of Reverend Billy’s propensity for performing so-called exorcisms at Starbucks stores. Billy likes to place his hands on the stores’ cash registers while invoking a “power prayer,” addressing the “mother/father God who is not the product,” he said in an interview.
The Starbucks situation posed an interesting question for the festival, Finneran says. “Our role as an arts organization is to support artists and their creative expression but also [to] work with the community, and we need to work with corporate sponsors who support our work.”
Finneran discussed the issue with Starbucks representatives, and together they decided to reassign the coffee company’s contribution, shifting it to the AFI Silver Theatre’s Washington Latin American Film Festival, coming up this fall. “We believe the Latin American film festival better fits our company’s brand positioning,” says Starbucks spokesperson Bridget Baker.
Starbucks also requested that its logo be removed from any additional program materials and the festival’s Web site, a request with which Silverdocs complied, Finneran says. “I have to respect Starbucks,” for choosing not to rescind its contribution to AFI, she says.
Even Reverend Billy had a compliment for the coffee giant. “I do believe they did the right thing to back out,” he says. “Starbucks should not be involved with festivals where there are documentaries and art dealing with fair trade.”
Then, from the improvised pulpit at Busboys and Poets on June 18, the faux-flaxen-haired preacher led his audience in a prayer. “Rise and face the nearest Starbucks,” he commanded his congregation and asked them to repeat after him: “We believe in stopping our shopping.”
Turned Back On
The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has returned Turntable Restaurant’s liquor license, following more than a month of suspended operations. Police Chief Cathy Lanier invoked her emergency-suspension powers to close Turntable, located at 5802 Georgia Ave. NW, after a man was fatally stabbed there May 12.
But Turntable has pledged to turn a corner, hiring a Maryland-based consulting firm, Full Circle Group LLC, to tighten security. Patrons will now be wanded at the door before entering, and Turntable will employ a minimum of five security guards. It will also enhance lighting in and around the establishment and will soften its music. “Based on the situation, we’re definitely going to tone down the lyrics,” owner Morris E. Cunningham said at the hearing. Turntable will play predominantly calypso and soca music, Cunningham’s attorney Michael Fonseca said, and his client will also be working closely with the Metropolitan Police Department officers who patrol the area.
On June 13, the board ruled to return Cunningham’s license but slapped him with a $9,250 fine and a 51-day suspension.
“We do not feel there was a case of a pattern of violence that was caused by the operation or revolved around the license,” board chair
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