During my many visits to restaurants, I occasionally run up against befuddling rules related to the establishment's liquor license. Sometimes, for instance you can have wine inside but not out, on the patio but not at the tables along the sidewalk. Liquor ads in the windows? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What's the rule? Depends who's asking.
Perhaps the strangest "rule" I have seen so far is the one at Old Soul at the Weatherstone on 21st Street. I "discovered" it, to my chagrin, while out for a stroll through midtown with one of our three dogs. We were having a peaceful walk. We met other dogs. We had a staring contest with the cat in the window at Richard L Press Fine and Scholarly Books. We greeted children, frightened squirrels, sniffed things here and there. After awhile, I was craving a bite to eat and a glass of wine - and I wanted to hang out with Abbey, who loves coffee shops and just about everybody and everything except fireworks.
Turns out, you can visit Old Soul at the Weatherstone and enjoy a bite to eat or a coffee with your dog. You can certainly enjoy a glass of wine there. But you can't bring your dog AND enjoy a glass of wine. It's impossible, thanks to two government agencies and their restrictions, which may or may not make sense.
All I wanted to do was hang out, relax, taste a very nice petite syrah, try to catch up on my New Yorker subscription and watch the world go by as I clawed my way through a Zadie Smith short story.
So I ordered a sandwich. I ordered the wine. Then I walked out with my $6.50 glass to the sidewalk where Abbey was waiting quietly. When the grub arrived in minutes, I was politely informed that this can't happen here, that my wine was not allowed at the sidewalk tables and that dogs, alas, were forbidden on the patio (due to a Health Department, aka Environmental Management, rule that bars dogs from walking into an eatery to out to the patio). Suddenly, I was a lawbreaker. It was very awkward. What should I do? Gulp down my wine? Call a lawyer? Or pretend I don't speak English?
I looked around. There's a gate to access the patio from the sidewalk without going through the cafÃ©, right? I could just walk through that gate and swirl and sip to my heart's content. That's where this gets really weird. That gate is required to be locked so that all hell doesn't break loose.
I survived my ordeal, walked home a little bewildered and reached out to Old Soul co-owner Tim Jordan to find out if I will ever be able to do two simple things that are, as of now, impossible: visit with my dog and have a glass of wine. I don't consider myself a trailblazer. But in instances like this one, I feel compelled to take a stand against silly rules that place unnecessary restrictions on a legitimate, much-admired business.
Turns out, Jordan is even more exasperated than I. He's been fighting this battle since Old Soul bought the landmark coffee shop about four years ago and sought to gently tweak the concept to include beer and wine. People lined up to oppose this effort. For those who haven't been there, Old Soul at the Weatherstone is a laid-back neighborhood place. There's no yelling, no chugging, no fist fights, no bro stuff. You don't come here to get wasted. It's craft beer and reasonably priced wine that you're more inclined to savor over some good conversation.
Old Soul at the Weatherstone has more restrictions imposed upon it than a San Quentin parolee. 23 stipulations in all. One of them mandates that beer and wine stop being served or consumed at 10 p.m., even though they're open till 11 (they must grab the glass in mid-sip if the imbibing guest doesn't finish by 10). Another requires that the patio gate, noted above, be locked and used only for emergencies (getting my dog onto the patio so I can sip wine is not considered an emergency, though I might argue otherwise).
The cafÃ© is a positive force in the neighborhood. It's part of what gives Sacramento its distinct identity. Same goes for Old Soul in the Alley several blocks away, Old Soul in Oak Park and Old Soul at the Sacramento International Airport. They're doing things the right way and the patrons at the Weatherstone are as calm, cool and collected about beer and wine as you'll find anywhere.
Jordan has applied to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to have the restrictions amended to extend beer and wine service until closing time. When did he do that? Two weeks ago? Two months? Try 25 months. If they don't deny it, you can't appeal. So the request is just sitting there in liquor license purgatory, trapped somewhere between common sense and silliness.
I can only imagine how long it would take if Jordan asked that the patio door be unlocked and that civilized people be trusted not to go bonkers drinking craft beer and wine at a sidewalk table. This kind of thing is frustrating. If the business is misbehaving and neighbors are being bothered, sanctions are in order. But if Old Soul is doing everything right and everyone is happy, why do the silly rules persist?
Looks like my visits to Old Soul with the dogs will be limited to espresso until common sense prevails.
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.