A regulatory axe to grind (or throw)

My husband Cy and I never miss the Health Code Violations blurbs in the Washington Post every Thursday.  While it seems a bit ghoulish, they shine a light on how local government functions.  Admittedly, it’s not nice to read that a favorite restaurant or grocery store had a rodent or insect infestation.  But some entries are for alcohol-related violations, and the citations and fines are issued by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration, or ABRA, which also regulates First Vine.

Health Code Violations get reported in the Washington Post every Thursday. Interestingly, many of them are related to alcohol regulation — which seems to apply in areas you wouldn’t think it did. Some of the listings are real head-scratchers, but this one about axe throwing really stood out.

One of today’s entries made us scratch our heads.  As you can see in the photo, a place called Kick Axe Throwing got a $1,000 fine from ABRA for hosting – wait for it — axe throwing. 

Seriously?  A place with axe throwing in the name got fined for axe throwing? And it’s prohibited?  Of course, this leads to all sorts of questions, like how they got a license in the first place if it’s prohibited.  Not to mention whether alcohol and axes are a good mix.

But what it really points out is that alcohol regulation has tendrils in a lot of different things.  It also overlaps other regulatory areas like health and public safety – which is how some things like this end up in the Health Code Violations column.  It’s true for ABRA, and I’m sure it’s true for the alcohol regulators where you live, too. 

ABRA issues all different kinds of permits and licenses for various businesses, and every business has some quibble about parts of the regulations which seem either burdensome or not quite appropriate.  Particularly if they want to do something new.  For example, the online-only alcohol license didn’t exist when I applied for a liquor license.  The agency put “internet only” somewhere on the original document because they didn’t have a category for it.  All of the regulations for walk-in liquor stores still applied to the license, including distance between my storage and other retailers, and not being too close to public schools and parks. Even though the general public couldn’t enter and buy.  I once had to sit and talk with an ABRA inspector at length about my business because it didn’t fit the walk-in license class I had, and he’d never inspected an online-only business before.  Some years later, ABRA solved the issue and developed online-only licenses. 

This was a minor inconvenience.  But some businesses end up getting crammed into regulations or categories that they don’t believe fit them.  Kind of like Cinderella’s stepsisters and the glass slipper. 

In addition to its liquor license to serve alcohol, Kick Axe Throwing apparently has what ABRA calls an Entertainment Endorsement.  According to ABRA’s website, this endorsement allows alcohol establishments to:

  • Offer live entertainment, including a singer, band, or musical ensemble, poetry reading, trivia, karaoke, DJ, comedy show, or drag show.
  • Provide an area or space for dancing.
  • Charge an entrance fee that is not directly applied to the purchase of food and drink.

However, current DC Covid regulations prohibit live entertainment for the time being to lessen person-to-person transmission.  While this is a public health measure, live entertainment falls under ABRA’s entertainment endorsement for businesses that serve alcohol.  Venues with the endorsement are still allowed to sell food and beverages, following the city’s guidelines for doing so.  I don’t know for sure, but it looks like Kick Axe Throwing may have allowed customers or staff members to engage in axe throwing, which by ABRA’s regulation constitutes live entertainment for endorsement purposes in this case.  Because the city’s Covid live entertainment ban was allegedly violated, the venue received a fine. 

ABRA also issues fines to businesses with liquor licenses that aren’t enforcing city mask regulations, or that violate other provisions of the city’s Covid restrictions.  Even though those seem like health department functions. My understanding is that police or an ABRA inspector must witness the activity before a citation or fine can be issued. 

According to its website, Kick Axe Throwing’s owners feel that the venue’s operation doesn’t fit the entertainment endorsement.  Here’s what the company’s home page says:

“Kick Axe Throwing® & ​THRōW Social™ (our sister venue upstairs) will be temporarily closed due to no fault of our own.

​“D.C. qualifies our games as ‘live entertainment’ even though each reservation is private and we follow all social distancing and safety guidelines, including 25% capacity, staggered start times, contactless check-in, mask requirements for all, sanitization between all reservations, and have invested many thousands to make sure everyone felt safe. At this time, we do not feel we can stay open for just food & beverage and still cover our team members’ salaries. 

“Hopefully, D.C. restrictions will be lessened soon and our people will be able to come back to work, but we do not think that will be for five or six weeks at a minimum. Ironically, we do not qualify as ‘Live Entertainment’ for government aid and will not be able to receive the Shuttered Venue Grant.”

I’m not going to weigh in on what’s fair and what’s not here, or on the particular incident in question.  That last statement is interesting, though – that the company qualifies as providing live entertainment in some cases but not in others.  It may be something that the city and/or federal government have to explore when it comes to things like pandemic assistance. 

Additionally, ABRA may develop some license changes or new categories to reflect operating conditions of companies like Kick Axe Throwing.  The agency recently created new licenses for DC-located wine, beer, and spirits producers to sell product at the city’s farmers’ markets, so they’re not static when it comes to new business plans.

But this situation is definitely an example of unexpected things that happen in the wide, wonderful world of alcohol regulation.  You never know where the axe will fall… 😉


We had sleet here yesterday, it left ice pellets on top of ice sheets on every surface.  So even if we were inclined to go pandemic grocery shopping, it was difficult to leave the house.  We didn’t lose power or water, so it wasn’t more than inconvenient for those of us fortunate enough to work from home.

In this situation, my first impulse is to turn to dry goods – legumes, rice, pasta, etc.  And a favorite easy meal is a combination of lentils and rice cooked with lots of onion and spices.  If I have a little bit of sausage in the freezer, I’ll add it.  But it’s not necessary.  If I have chicken or vegetable stock, I might use it to cook the rice.  Water is perfectly good, too, and it makes the dish taste more lentil-y.  

Ice pellets on top of ice sheets, courtesy of yesterday’s storm. We didn’t lose power or water, though, like parts of the southern U.S.

This combination is served the world over, and has different names depending on how it’s spiced.  I’m going with cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, and cayenne here, so it’s a sort of Mujadara.  Mujadara is a typical side dish in many middle eastern countries.  It makes a nice main dish, too – either alone or with some protein mixed in it.  Warm and comforting, easily made on the stovetop, and great as leftovers.  Nothing here to dislike!

Cold weather seems to call for red wine, but I think a substantial white wine also works with this dish.  Ciavolich Aries Pecorino ($19) is a new First Vine selection, made in Abruzzo.  Pecorino isn’t a wine we see too much here in the DC area. It’s generally on wine lists at better Italian restaurants, but not necessarily in wine shops. 

I’ve been talking with Chiara Ciavolich, the winemaker, about her family’s connection to the land in Abruzzo, dating back to the 16th century.  I’ll be writing about it soon.  But growing Pecorino grapes is a natural for Chiara because her family were shepherds when they first came to Italy from Bulgaria.  Pecora is Italian for sheep.  Why would a grape be named after sheep?  Well, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

In the meantime, stay warm and dry.  We’ve been promised some melting, but for now there’s plenty of Mujadara left over and you’ve all been patient about putting off deliveries until the roads aren’t icy.  Thanks for your understanding!


Note: you can make this a more Mediterranean dish by substituting red pepper flakes, plus dried rosemary, thyme, and oregano, plus a bit of crushed fennel seed for the spices.

Mujadara – Lentils and Rice with Onion and Spices

Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish

1-1/2 cups lentils (either brown, green, or Puy)

Olive oil

½ pound lamb, pork, or turkey sausage, sliced, or ground meat (optional)

1 large or 2 medium onions, cut in half lengthwise and sliced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon cayenne

1-1/2 cups white rice (preferably Basmati, but regular long-grain rice is OK)


Water or vegetable stock

Put the lentils in a medium saucepan and cover them with at least an inch of cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and cook the lentils until soft.  Brown lentils take about 15 minutes, Puy lentils take around 25.  Drain the lentils and set aside.

In the meantime, if you’re using sausage or meat, brown them first.  In a large, heavy pot that also has a lid, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil until hot and add the sausage or meat (add a pinch of salt if it’s ground meat).  Cook until lightly browned, then remove it with a slotted spoon to a bowl, leaving as much fat behind as possible.

You’ll need to have about 3 tablespoons of fat in the pan.  Pour out the rest.  If you didn’t use any meat, then add 3 tablespoons olive oil and heat it up.  Cook the onions with a pinch of salt over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until they start to get brown.  Turn the heat to low, add the garlic and cook for another few minutes until it gets lightly golden.  At this point, stir in the sausage or meat if you’re using them.  Turn the heat back up to medium, add a teaspoon of salt and the spices and cook for a couple of minutes.  Stir in the rice.  Cook the rice for a couple of minutes so that it’s thoroughly coated and there doesn’t seem to be as much fat in the bottom of the pan.

Stir in the lentils and 2-1/2 cups of water or vegetable stock.  Bring it to a nice boil, then cover the pot and turn the heat to low.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Uncover the pot and add up to ¼ cup more water or stock if it all seems completely dry or if it’s stuck to the bottom of the pot (sometimes you also have undercooked rice grains on top, this is OK, they’ll finish cooking in a couple of minutes. If you used long-grain rice instead of Basmati, you’ll likely need some extra liquid).  Stir it up and check it – it shouldn’t be soupy.  If it is, crank up the heat for a minute and keep stirring until everything is just moist and not wet.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

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1 Response to A regulatory axe to grind (or throw)

  1. Pingback: Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Prosecco Progress

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