Remember that citation we got last month, which may or may not have been for "failing to keep the sidewalk clear" at 12:45 AM on New Year's Eve? Well, the court date was this week. Barry showed up at 8 AM and spent many hours waiting first in one line, then being told to wait in another line, and then a third line, where finally the clerk looked at the ticket, typed in its number, and said, "This ticket is invalid."

"What does that mean?", Barry asked.

"It means you don't have to do anything. Here's your receipt, zero dollars due."

"But, invalid how? What makes it invalid?"

"Look, I'm not going to play detective here", she said.

After some more non-answers, he was finally told to come back on Thursday, where he wasted another half day trying to get a whole gaggle of clerks to explain to him what was invalid about it. As far as we can tell, from the not-very-communicative hints that were dropped from behind the bulletproof glass, "invalid" means either: the citation was never entered into the system in the first place; or at some point, someone reviewed it and clicked the "Invalid!" checkbox.

(You'd think that if someone manually invalidated your citation -- meaning that you didn't do anything wrong, and it was wrong for you to have gotten the citation in the first place -- they might do you the courtesy of calling to let you know that you don't actually have to show up at 8 AM and waste half your day. But no, that's apparently not how it works.)

So, my assumption is unchanged: that the issuance of this citation was pure harassment. Officer Bertrand wrote it knowing full well that it would not be prosecuted, and that he would never have to defend his claims in front of a judge. I believe that Bertrand and Ott showed up at DNA Lounge on New Year's Eve with the intention of citing us for something, and when the only thing they could come up with was something that they knew wouldn't stick, they wrote us this "fake" ticket solely to flex their muscle and waste our time.

We have heard many stories of this kind of thing happening to operators of other venues over the past couple of years: tickets that, once you get to the front of the hours-long line, turn out to not really exist at all.

Most people are relieved when this happens to them, because it means they "got off easy". Personally, I'd rather fix the broken system that allows this kind of harassment to happen in the first place.

In more pleasant news:

Photos are up of Debut, the SFIEC Hair Show. It was cute. A couple times a year, the students of the cosmetology school down the street put on a show. They arrived at DNA at 9am and spent all day doing hair, and then in the evening, put on a fashion show, with a runway coming off of the stage and everything.

This year we managed to not blow any circuits with all the hairdryers running all day. Go us.

We got another ticket this Saturday night around midnight, which was (in writing) for "Violating the Good Neighbor Policy", and was (verbally) for "blocking the sidewalk". Same as on New Year's Eve.

I guess I can assume that we're going to be getting one of these tickets every week from now on. The last time, Barry wasted at least 6 hours standing in line to find out that the ticket was "invalid". Forcing my managers to waste a day a week standing around at the Hall of Justice is going to prove to be very expensive very quickly, even if these tickets don't end up costing a fine as well.

Here's how Saturday night went:

At around 11pm, the notorious Officer Bertrand pulled up in front of DNA in an unmarked car (continuing to make good on his threat that we'd be "seeing a lot more of him"). He barked that we needed "to do something about the sidewalk", then drove his car across the street to Butter, which apparently got shut down for capacity issues. (Accomplishing this apparently took four squad cars, plus the unmarked Bertrand/Ott car. Butter is not a big place.)

At 11:30pm, Sgt. Mannix arrived and began yelling at our back-door security to "have the line cleared off the sidewalk".

At the time, we had an orderly double-file line up against the wall running down to the corner. The sidewalk was not even remotely blocked: there was five or six feet of open space between the line and the curb. Nevertheless, Mannix screamed that if the line wasn't dispersed immediately, we were getting a citation, and our customers were going to be cited for "loitering".

After rooting around in the police car trunk and pulling out what looked like riot gear, Mannix videotaped our line for a few minutes, then said, "this isn't working", and ordered another officer to write us a ticket. This order was given with obvious glee. The elapsed time between being ordered to turn away our customers and getting the ticket was thirteen minutes. During that time, we had cleared away sixty feet of the line, in a calm, safe and orderly manner, but apparently that wasn't fast enough for SF's screaming finest.

I emphasize that it was still before midnight, on a Saturday.

The officer who actually wrote the ticket made a point of saying that he was sorry that he had been ordered to write it, and that in the five years that this had been his beat, we'd always kept very good control of our events, and that our staff had been helpful to the police on many occasions.

Later, it got even crazier: at 1:55am, a number of cops on foot, plus 6 marked and at least 2 unmarked police cars converged on Mist, across the street. An unmarked vehicle closed off the northbound side of 11th Street, and the police began herding people down the block. There were no apparent arrests, just a big, unnecessary show of force. We kept our customers inside until the gang of police dispersed at 2:05am.

DNA's staff are unaware of any triggering incident. Mist had a thuggy crowd, but there didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary about them.

I guess we can expect to see these gestapo tactics every weekend as well, since SFPD seem to feel that that approach worked so great for them when they "cleaned up" North Beach.

As you may recall, their approach in North Beach was to block off the streets every night so that even the taxis couldn't reach the clubs to pick up customers. Their assumption seems to have been that if you make going to a club feel like walking through a war zone, then the customers will stop coming and the clubs will go out of business. It turns out that this is true, and Sgt. (now Commander) Dudley got a promotion out of this tactic.

Why isn't Mayor Newsom doing or saying anything about this? Now that he's no longer running for Governor, it's about time for him to stop being an absentee landlord and do something about the fact that his wildly out-of-control police department is trying to systematically destroy the city's nightlife and tourism industry. Perhaps you should write him and ask.

This is some serious bullshit, people.

I wonder how often other businesses get ticketed for their customers blocking the sidewalk. For example, Macy's, Whole Foods, Bi-Rite Creamery, the Apple Store, Caltrain, the Westfield Mall, or the Powell cable car turnaround.

In fact, would you like to help out? Send me some videos of "blocked sidewalks" around town in front of "reputable" businesses during the day.

Why don't these places get cited? I'll tell you why: because SFPD does not have an anti-groceries agenda like they have an anti-nightlife agenda, so they enforce their ridiculously-rigid (and incorrect) interpretation of the laws only against those businesses that they are trying to destroy.

Photos and videos are up of the EFF's 20th Birthday party, as well as some earlier galleries that I forgot to mention of the Abney Park and Kid Beyond shows.

You're coming down tonight and/or tomorrow for the ROBOT BARTENDERS, right? It should be hilarious. Here's a video of them debugging one of the robots earlier today.

The Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe drinking environment. In dangerous drinking environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance: due to scheduled maintenance, one of the barbots was unavailable, and has been replaced with a live-fire military android. Try to avoid it.

Photos and videos of the two night BarBot 2010 Cocktail Robot Festival are now up. It was a lot of fun, and the robots were very cool.

I can report, however, that the squishy meat-sacks that we normally employ as bartenders need not fear for their jobs, or their lives. Yet. The robots needed near-constant tweaking, prodding and jiggling from their simian assistants in order to be coaxed into dispensing the life-giving nectar.

I believe we have a few years left before the coming war between man and the brotherhood of machines.

Remain vigilant.

Comments Off

I've been holding off on writing about this one for some time, hoping that some more facts would become public about it, but it seems that the press has gotten hold of the rumor-and-innuendo version, so I guess it's time. Michael Bauer writes in the SF Chronicle:

Are my favorite bartenders going to be sent to jail?

I recently had a beautiful cocktail at one of my favorite restaurants, lovingly crafted by the bartender using house-infused liquors. I won't tell you which one because I don't want him carted off to jail.

The above sentence is a bit of an exaggeration, maybe, but it's not far from the truth. The California Alcoholic Beverage Control is cracking down on people who "adulterate" spirits by making limoncello and infusing spirits with herbs or fruit. Reportedly, agents have been in San Francisco recently sniffing out these grievous lawbreakers.

It's ironic, the budget may be near the busting point, but the ABC still has resources to crack down on restaurants. In the last couple of weeks a team of enforcers have cited at least four restaurants in the Bay Area, making them pour out their creations.

So far they have only been attacking high-end cocktail bars who create their own infusions, bitters and limoncello, but ABC's new, absurd interpretation of the law would effectively outlaw cocktails entirely.

John Hinman, a lawyer who represents many local folks in their various battles against ABC has this to say:

The ABC's theory is that the act of making a cocktail for consumption later (like pre-mixing long island iced teas, or infusing fruit for cocktails) is the act of "rectification" as defined in the ABC Act.

Read strictly of course, this means that NO cocktails are permitted at all because almost ALL cocktails require the blending of different distilled spirits products. The ABC skated around that conclusion by finding that if a cocktail is made it must be consumed "immediately."

Try to find that definition anywhere; you won't because its made up, much like the Rule 64.2 actions against the Bottom of the Hill, Slim's, the Cafe du Nord and the Great American Music Hall were made up. Those actions were finally dismissed last November after two years of battles with the ABC.

The statutory definition of "rectification" is in Section 23016. [...] Please note that there is no exception in the 23016 definition for "immediate" consumption.

The tied house laws play a part because they (1) prohibit a retailer from obtaining a rectifiers license and (2) prohibit a rectifier from selling for consumption. A catch-22 by definition.

What this does is outlaw cocktails. Anyone ever pre-mix a batch of margaritas for a Mexican party, or a batch of Long Island Iced teas? You just broke the law.

This story has been being passed around third-hand like a game of telephone for several months now. The reason there has been little press on it is that the bars who have been a victim of this latest absurd crackdown refuse to go public with their story. They say they have a "good relationship" with the police and don't want to mess that up.

Please note that this is the kind of "good relationship" where the police come into your business, physically assault your staff, and dump your product down the drain -- sometimes with charges filed, sometimes not.

I am appalled that the businesses who have been victimized in this way refuse to go public with their stories of abuse. When will these people learn that the way you stand up to a bully is not by curling up on the floor and crying, "Please stop hitting me, I promise I won't tell mom"?

Sack up, you cowards.

In his article, Bauer goes on to say, "I understand the ABC doesn't want people making moonshine. Look where that got us in the 1920s."

Yes, well. That's not exactly how the story of Prohibition actually went down. Please have a look at this recent article from Slate:

The Chemist's War: The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences.

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

Although mostly forgotten today, the "chemist's war of Prohibition" remains one of the strangest and most deadly decisions in American law-enforcement history. As one of its most outspoken opponents, Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City during the 1920s, liked to say, it was "our national experiment in extermination." [...]

Industrial alcohol is basically grain alcohol with some unpleasant chemicals mixed in to render it undrinkable. The U.S. government started requiring this "denaturing" process in 1906 for manufacturers who wanted to avoid the taxes levied on potable spirits. [...] By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons -- kerosene and brucine (closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added -- up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.

So the "denatured" alcohol that is used for industrial purposes is not simply alcohol before it has been purified: it is alcohol that has been intentionally poisoned.

In the 1920s, this was because your government preferred that you be dead than drunk.

Today, it's because your government chooses to charge a higher "sin tax" on the kind of alcohol that one drinks, so they continue to poison the other kind in order to make that easier for them.

"We're from the Government. We're here to help."

This story seems to have some legs; maybe ABC has finally done something absurd enough that the general public will take notice!

Here's a Chronicle article which finally outs Bourbon and Branch as one of the recently-harassed bars:

State warns Bay Area bars not to infuse drinks

On a recent Friday night, they entered the speakeasy-themed Tenderloin tavern and warned bartenders they were breaking California law by altering alcohol - infusing it with the flavors of fruits, vegetables and spices.

At Bourbon and Branch, where the owners declined to comment, the Clermont Affair remains on the menu. So does the Stan Lee Sour, which features gin infused with hibiscus and jasmine. But customers can't order them. Fitting with the bar's theme, the cocktails are now stamped "Prohibited."

There was a three minute segment about it on the local TV news a couple days ago. It was a fairly neutral piece, but I found their smirking attitude irritating. It's like they're saying, "Gosh, isn't this a hilarious little piece of info-tainment, isn't this quirky." Well, it's not very funny to the people who are probably going to have to fight this nonsense in court.

Their credulous and implicit acceptance that whatever ABC claims that the law says must, by definition, actually be what the law says was also irksome.

But I guess that's why I don't watch TV news.

And finally, this afternoon, John Hinman was on the radio on The Karel Show talking about this. The official archive is here, but I've clipped out just Hinman's interview and saved it here.

But enough about that. Come out to our irregularly-scheduled circus party Bohemian Carnival tonight. It is always amusing, and we haven't had one of these since July!