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This week’s question comes from Robert Renner of Silver Spring, who wants to know:
When I go out for a nice dinner, I usually like to bring my own bottle and pay the corkage fee, if the restaurant allows it. Normally, when you buy a bottle from their list and you don’t finish it, you aren’t allowed to take the rest with you, at least in D.C. But what if the bottle that was opened at the restaurant was one that you brought? Can you take the rest home?
In response to your smart inquiry, Robert, I offer this rhetorical question: Who would have guessed that Maryland, with all its weird alcohol laws, actually is more progressive on this issue than D.C.? Last year, a new law went into effect in Maryland that allows diners to take home unfinished bottles of wine consumed in Free State restaurants. The only caveat is that you must transport the tightly recorked bottles in a locked glove compartment, trunk, or other cargo area. There’s even a company, winedoggybag.com, that sells tamper-evident bags for these take-home proposes. Hey, we can’t have you swiggin’ that vino as you weave your way home.
In D.C., however, you gotta suck down that bottle and hope to Christ you manage to avoid all the alcohol checkpoints. Cynthia Simms, community resource officer for D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, says that the Alcohol Beverage Control regulations don’t allow diners to remove BYOB wine from restaurants. She read this to me from Chapter 7 of the general operating requirements for licensees (under the “corkage fee” section):
The holder of an on-premise retailer’s license may permit a patron to bring to and consume on the licensed premises an alcohol beverage that the licensee is permitted to sell or serve under its on-premise retailer’s license, provided that the alcoholic beverage is opened by an employee of the establishment. However, the holder of an on-premise retailer’s license shall not permit any alcoholic beverage opened on the licensed premises to be removed from the licensed premises.
So what exactly does a licensee do with a bottle of leftover wine? I thought I’d check in with Dean Gold, owner of Dino in Cleveland Park, which has one of the best Italian wine programs in the region (not to mention free corkage on certain days of the week). Does an unfinished bottle just get dumped down the kitchen drain, Dean?
“Something like that,” he jokes. “Maybe the staff [drinks it] or the owner. It depends upon if it’s an old Brunello.”
I wondered aloud to Gold if restaurateurs would try to lobby the D.C. Council to pass a law similar to the one in Maryland allowing diners to take home half-finished bottles.
“I don’t think there’s any movement. I think there should be,” he says. “For example, I know that I would benefit from it because I would have people come in and stage a wine tasting. They’d buy two or three Brunellos, drink part of them, and take them home if they could. I’ve had people tell me that. So I think it’s a great idea. It’s one of those things to put on the agenda.”
Do you hear that, D.C. Council? Such a law would likely cut down on drunk driving and benefit restaurateurs. It’s time to put your bottles down, councilmembers, and pass that damn law.
To submit a question to Ask Tim, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.