I got a call this morning from Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, over the article on the state's dueling liquor initiatives that I wrote for this week's paper. Specifically, he took issue with my depiction of the state's liquor selection:
And if a liquor store runs out of something a restaurant needs to make its customers happy? Maker's Mark, for example? Until that assigned store gets a new shipment of Maker's, that restaurant is shit out of luck. If the liquor store that's been assigned to a restaurant closes early, but another liquor store across town is still open? Again, that restaurant is shit out of luck—going to another store is against the rules of the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB). If the state doesn't carry a product that a restaurant's customers want or if it discontinues a product? Once again, shit out of luck.
Smith wanted to clarify that last part—that restaurants are screwed if the state doesn't carry a brand they need. "We do special orders for bars and restaurants by the case, approximately 1,100 special orders a month," says Smith.
However, many bar owners I talked to for this article say the process for a special order is spotty. "You can put in a special order, but the state has no sense of timeliness. It could come within weeks or it could come within months. I've had special orders never show up. In any other sector, that kind of service is just unacceptable," said one bar owner, who wished to remain nameless. "Frankly, it's easier to smuggle the brands you want from out of state than wait for the liquor control board."
And Pete Hanning, owner of the Red Door in Fremont, says that having to special order a case of expensive liquor—instead of simply buying a bottle—is cost prohibitive.
"There are two products I’ve carried the last 10 years that are no longer available in the state," Hanning says. "An obscure tequila and a high-end rum that a few customers really enjoy. I'm a neighborhood bar, I want to continue offering them to my customers, but it's not worth it for me to buy a case of these products when I might only go through four bottles of them in a year."
Read more on this exhausting issue here. (It goes down better with a drink.)