ABC Strikes Again

Image courtesy PRNewsWire for a T.G.I. Friday's in Texas, not Don Pablo's in Virginia.

In the months since my roommate introduced me to Don Pablo’s margarita and sangriarita (just like it sounds–a combo of sangria and margarita) pitchers just down the road from our apartment complex, we’ve been frequenting the spot often during these hot summer months. I’ve heard, as many Virginians probably have, that it is technically illegal to serve liquor-based drinks in pitchers in Virginia bars and restaurants. There’s even a law against restaurants and bars directly advertising alcohol happy hour special (HH appetizer adverts are fine), but third parties can get away with it. Here are the rules, and the happy hour excerpt:

Happy Hours and Advertising
-It is unlawful to conduct a happy hour between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
-A person cannot possess more than two drinks at one time.
-It is illegal to sell pitchers of mixed beverages, sell two or more drinks for one price, giveaway drinks, sell unlimited drinks for one price, or advertise happy hour in the media or on exterior advertising.

Happy Hours and Advertising-It is unlawful to conduct a happy hour between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.-A person cannot possess more than two drinks at one time.-It is illegal to sell pitchers of mixed beverages, sell two or more drinks for one price, giveaway drinks, sell unlimited drinks for one price, or advertise happy hour in the media or on exterior advertising.
(3 VAC 5-50-160)

But that’s a whole ‘nother post; back to the pitchers. In fact, I asked my roommate how it was possible that they were capable of serving pitchers that contained liquor, but I certainly wasn’t going to turn down the offer. After all, at the time, I could’ve heard wrong about the law.

However, our journey to Don Pablo’s the last Monday of August came with a surprise. On a recent, rather early Saturday evening, an ABC employee busted one of Don Pablo’s several Virginia locations for serving margarita pitchers. Meanwhile, service immediately stopped at that location, in spite of many customers still enjoying their remaining pitchers on the table. Apparently the news was phoned around, and all of Don Pablo’s Virginia locations removed all margarita and sangriarita pitchers from their menus. One of the waiters told us that based on his experience, at least 50 percent of customers come in knowing exactly what they want, and a lot of people came to the restaurant specifically for the pitchers of margarita (and perhaps like us, for that addictive queso blanco). I sincerely doubt that Don Pablo’s was operating knowingly against the Virginia law and as a national chain accidentally overlooked that nuance in state law, but such a bust just demonstrates the insanity of such a law’s existence. Especially so, when customers can merely enter the District of Columbia and order a pitcher of mojito, sangria (with brandy) or margarita, just like many NoVa customers already purchase their liquor in DC rather than Virginia for the lower total cost and greater selection.

I imagine that having a job at ABC as a “Special Agent” busting restaurants and bars in Virginia for alcohol violations makes one a contender for most disliked, perhaps rivaling parking enforcement…

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