Salons to serve alcohol in Montgomery County - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Salons to serve alcohol in Montgomery County

You may be able to enjoy a hard drink when getting your hair done in Maryland – legally. A new law allows it in Montgomery County, but look for it to spread in coming years if it works out.

The new law allows hair salons to offer a free drink to patrons of age (but not to anyone who comes in off the street without buying a service). Salons must obtain a $100 license. But don’t expect tipsy patrons to wander out of salons: at the insistence of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the bill was amended to limit offerings to five ounces. And the law only applies in Montgomery County, where the original sponsor comes from.

“We are aware of the practice and it is actually common and it is fairly old,” notes Myra Reddy, director of government affairs for the Professional Beauty Association. “It has been around since when barbershops used to be the big place to go and hang around and relax….I’ve even seen it in tanning salons and in spas that offer a manicure/pedicure with a glass of champagne.”

She says that state laws vary and some are silent or ambiguous, particularly when the establishment doesn’t charge extra for the drink. But many salons avoid alcohol because of the insurance issue, Reddy adds. Maryland law states that alcohol is considered sold when it comes with a service, even if the establishment does not charge extra for the drink.

Shampoo and a cocktail at the Drybar.

Shampoo and a cocktail at the Drybar.

Reddy says salons “try to provide a relaxing atmosphere for their clients” and the business is competitive so offering free bonuses, such as food, helps beat the competition. But she adds that salons operate on low margins of profit and the price of drinks they have to give away raises costs.

Drybar, a growing chain of “blowout” bars around the nation, offers only blowdrys and shampoos for patrons – no cuts, no coloring.

The chain opened in the Mid-Atlantic two years ago with stores in Georgetown in DC and Bethesda and an eye on expanding in the area next year. Drybar designs parlors to resemble bars, with patrons’ chairs in a U around the cashier. It calls receptionists “bartenders.”

Patrons can choose to have their hair done in a Hot Shot, Southern Comfort or Hot Toddy. The underage can get a Shirley Temple. And clients of age even get offered a wet drink in the Drybar while getting their hair done: a choice of wine, champagne or mimosa.

At least they are in Georgetown and other Drybars around the country. They were in Bethesda until the chain found out the hard way that it wasn’t quite legal in Maryland and was ordered by the government to stop, Regional Manager Courtney Barfield recalls. In Maryland, a public establishment can’t serve alcohol without a license. Drybar hadn’t thought about this in advance.

The Bethesda Drybar subsequently found its business suffered and its patrons displeased when they couldn’t get the drink the chain was famed for providing. “Our clients want it. They are very, very upset when they don’t have it,” Barfield notes.

But a regular client saved the day. “I am in politics and have to appear in public. I need to get my hair done,” says state Delegate Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery), who represents Bethesda.

“I was getting my hair done and I heard the woman next to me complain to her stylist” that the Bethesda bar didn’t offer drinks she had gotten in other Drybars.

The stylist responded “I hear that all the time,” Kelly recalled in an interview.

Montgomery County sends undercover agents into salons to enforce the law but “in other jurisdictions, it is ‘don’t ask; don’t tell.’ It has been going on illegally across the state, I’m sure,” Kelly says. In an effort to prevent local businesses from losing customers to salons across the District of Columbia line, Kelly convinced the state legislature to pass the bill.

Courtney Barfield

Drybar Regional Manager Courtney Barfield

The law does not apply to barbershops, which are licensed separately. It only affects establishments that provide treatment for hair, eyebrows and lashes, nails and facials – excluding those that only fit wigs or do shampooing or braiding and related services (unless they also color hair). Salons can also offer drinks at receptions such as charity events and to groups such as bridal parties. They may not serve after 9 p.m.

Kelly said that “a lot of my legislative colleagues said they didn’t know how to feel about the bill but ‘my wife told me it was great to have a drink with a styling.”’ That convinced some men in the legislature to vote for the bill.

The law only applies in Montgomery County, which included 604 beauty salons last year, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation. Under Maryland legislative custom, if a county’s delegation unanimously agrees to legislation that only affects that county, the legislature goes along.

But it likely will expand throughout the state in coming years. “My expectation is that other jurisdictions will probably follow suit,” Kelly predicts. An amendment was added to the bill but dropped that would have extended the privilege to Leonardtown in Southern Maryland. Accounts differ as to why the amendment was dropped – one attributes it to a technical error; others to a lack of unanimity among the St. Mary’s County delegation. The town, in an effort to spur its growing arts scene, had delegates add a provision that would allow salons and art galleries to serve beer and wine.

“I really don’t know why it didn’t make it through. We’ll be trying again next year,” Town Administrator Laschelle McKay says.

Look for this law allowing Salons to serve cocktails  to expand rapidly in Maryland.

Look for this law allowing Salons to serve cocktails to expand rapidly in Maryland.

The Montgomery provision officially took effect July 1 – but no one has gotten a (legal) drink with their styling yet and won’t before fall because of the time it takes to get a license and receive required staff training. Similar to restaurant employees, staff will have to learn how to serve drinks appropriately.

They’ll also have to make sure to keep the booze away form the chemicals salons use. As of Mid-August, no one had applied for the license. And after an applicant completes the paperwork, it takes at least 30 days for review and a required public hearing. Several places have shown interest but had not yet finished the paperwork, reports Kathie Durbin, division chief of Licensure, Regulation & Education for the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control.

“It’s going to be interesting,” she says. “Places will have to change their business plan….We’ve had a lot of phone calls; a lot of people want to see how it will work in their business.” Places will also be able to get licenses for one-day benefits hat might not even take place on the premises. “You line up and get your hair cut to show your support for cancer research” as an example. “I think it will be a fun thing for some of these salons.”


About the author

Charles Pekow

Charles Pekow is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered everything from the environment to education to defense contracting and everything in between. A Bethesda resident, he has written for many periodicals, including the Washington Post. Baltimore Magazine, Maryland Life and the Washington Monthly. He has won many journalism honors, including the National Press Club Award and Washington Writing Prize. He is also a fitness freak who can be found riding his bicycle most weekends, weather permitting. Contact the author.
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