Almost a year ago, the District fined The Dirty Goose $1,000 over a half-baked rule that said businesses holding alcohol licenses must “offer a food menu at all times containing at least three prepared food items” in order to seat customers during the D.C.’s initial reopening process. Remember that befuddling phase of the pandemic?
When the U Street NW gay bar learned about the rule, they immediately worked to comply by securing a toaster oven and debuting a menu of five cookies that were extremely popular with customers. Heavenly smells wafted throughout the entire establishment and even beckoned to passersby who popped in and ordered them to-go.
Five is even better than three, co-owner Justin Parker and the smart cookies on his team figured. But an Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration inspector didn’t see it that way when she visited The Dirty Goose on Nov. 27, 2020. After a three-day delay, ABRA slapped the bar with a $1,000 fine. According to Parker, the inspector informed Dirty Goose that multiple varieties of cookies didn’t count as distinct prepared food items, so they should figure out how to pop popcorn and bake brownies.
(The inspector didn’t give The Dirty Goose any credit for partnering with Al Crostino to serve Italian dishes during dinner hours. Bars and restaurants worked together during the earlier months of the pandemic to get each other across a finish line that has yet to materialize.)
City Paper unpacked the whole saga last year, but the essential fact is this: Several inspectors visited The Dirty Goose and found their food offerings to be in compliance before Nov. 27.
Attorney Richard Bianco found the notion that a snickerdoodle is the same as a fortune cookie so ludicrous that he took the case on pro bono. He was ready to do battle at an ABC Board show cause hearing today, but didn’t have to do so. The city immediately offered to reduce the $1,000 fine to a written warning because the Office of the Attorney General deemed the rule confusing.
“It wasn’t a situation where they had a tongue-and-cheek effort at compliance with a mayonnaise sandwich,” Bianco says. “Their cookie program wasn’t a joke. They sold 5,000 cookies in 2020.”
While he says he’s “a little disappointed he didn’t get to engage in existential debate about whether five cookies are five prepared food items,” he’s satisfied with the outcome. “The board and agency had a chance here to not kick an establishment when the whole industry is down,” he says. “Based on what happened today, that happened.”
The offer is significant not only because The Dirty Goose gets to keep its checkbook tucked away, but because they also avoid what’s known as a primary tier violation. “The way the fine system and disciplinary system works for hospitality establishments is that it’s progressive,” Bianco explains. “As you accumulate different violations, the fines get higher and things like suspensions and revocations come into play. The warning doesn’t count as a primary tier violation. You’re only allowed four within four years.”
Parker is pleased there was an admission that the regulation about what constituted a distinct food item was as opaque as the chocolate chunks in their best selling cookie. “That was our point all along,” he says. “We weren’t trying to get away with anything.”
The Dirty Goose has something to toast to tonight. The rest of us, not so much. Parker regrets to inform the public that they no longer sell their addictive cookies. “When we went back to full capacity, the likelihood that the quality would stay the same was unlikely,” he says. “When it gets colder, we might talk about it again. We still have the toaster oven. Never say never.”