“If either of you go near the bar or touch alcohol–you’re OUT!”–My Strangest Restaurant Experience

I’ve been taking my niece around to see our favorite sights in the DC area.  One of them was a boat ride by National Ferry.  We had a great time, and a special shout out to Evan on the staff for giving us extra information about all the sights we saw.

Afterwards, we headed over to a restaurant that I’d consider a staple in my DC life, Cantina Marina.  I’ve been going there since I moved to the DC area in 2008.  I especially love running over there after a Washington Nationals Game.

outdoor dining

Now as a side note, my niece’s mother recently passed away.

When we walked into the restaurant, we were stopped.  An employee let us know that you had to be 21 or older to get in unless you had a parent with you.

I pulled out my identification which showed I’m in my mid-thirties and said my niece is only 20 but is with me.

The man said I could only bring her in if she was my daughter.

I lowered my voice and told the man that my niece’s mother passed away a few months ago and that I was taking care of her.  My niece offered to show the death certificate and the obituary that corroborated our story.   I was asked if I was her legal guardian, but I told him that since she was over 18, they aren’t granted “legal” guardianship, but I was taking care of her.

The man said he didn’t need to see the documentation, but went to grab his manager.  We waited for a while as they discussed what to do, and in the meantime, they seated two parents and their three children.  They didn’t make sure the children belonged to the parents.

Finally, the manager decided he could seat us, but he told us, “If either of you go near the bar or touch alcohol–you’re OUT!”

He said it in a completely adversarial tone.  This was surprising to me since the entire time I was completely honest.  I didn’t try to pretend my niece was 21.  I was honest about our relationship.  But they were incredibly suspicious.

We were seated next to that family that we saw before.  Both parents were drinking cocktails.

During our time there, the manager kept coming over to watch what we were doing.  It felt really judgemental .  I’m saying this as someone who rarely complains about restaurant visits.  He clearly looked like he was watching what we were doing, just in case we bolted to the bar and grabbed someone’s beverage off of it.

Now, our server, Tim, was fantastic and friendly the entire time, so I want to stress how happy I am with that part of the service.

But we felt unwelcome and unwanted the entire time there.  We felt like we were let in there as a favor and should be grateful.  We felt like we did something to deserve being watched while there.

Most of all, we felt like they were saying we weren’t a real family.  And that’s what hurt the most.

(There’s an update on this story here)

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. Ummm…as much as I might like a restaurant, I wouldn’t give my business to such an establishment. The moment that the first person on the staff was being insensitive to your niece’s recent loss is the moment you should’ve walked out. This isn’t bad service; they were just bad human beings.

  2. Why would you bother remaining after that? Should have called him out, produced the docs, demanded an apology & left

  3. What’s crazy to me is that they still treated you like that even though you TOLD them she was underage. If you’d been just a friend trying to get alcohol for her, you would have at least tried to bluff about how old she was, or at least dodge the question.

  4. I can imagine that you might not be visiting Cantina Marina again.

  5. Wow. What weird – and poor – treatment of customers. You’re justified in being hacked off.

  6. My guess is that the policy is in place because there’s a regulatory hammer that comes down hard if the wrong thing happens–and who knows? Maybe you’re a sting operation. As you’re a regular customer it might be worth asking as this might have been a legal and regulatory gray area for them.

  7. The U.S. needs to give its head a severe whack over its drinking age and the silly steps taken to enforce it. You’re old enough to die for your country at 18, but bad things will happen if you pick up that fermented grape juice There’s a drinking problem in the U.S. BECAUSE alcohol is treated like a forbidden fruit.

    As for the restaurant, I would have taken names and never given them my business.

  8. Hoping it is resolved soon.

  9. I work pretty close and have been there for a good number of visits for business purposes. I think we’ll steer clear in the future,

  10. Sad you had an awful experience at a place you regularly frequent.

  11. In all fairness, the restaurant has a rule in place (no one under 21 without their parent) and you and your niece don’t fit that rule. So when you say “they made us feel like we were not a real family,” actually in the only way that it concerns them, you’re not. And you shouldn’t need a restaurant to validate the emotional value of your relationship. So this line really doesn’t belong in your story.
    That said, I hope you’ve emailed an actual complaint to the restaurant and will update on its outcome. You got poor service.

  12. What are the liquor laws in DC? Because in Texas, if an establishment makes more than 50% of its revenue from food, youncould be a couple of 12 year olds and go in there to eat. Even bars with less than 50% food sales allow minor in before 9 pm. They stamp their hand with indelible ink and check IDsnat tje table. I would post this review on Yelp, TripAdvisor, CitySearch and all other restaurant sites and never go there again.

  13. I can’t believe you still ate there! I would have demanded names and I would report them to the better business bureau. Absolutely ridiculous the way you were treated, even if there was a “rule.” You weren’t even trying to hide the fact your niece is under age. Please write a yelp review. This establishment is not worth anyone’s time.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      It was the only restaurant in the area and we had waited up 2:30pm to eat, so we were hungry. I also have previously had so many good experiences with them. In retrospect, we should have traveled elsewhere.

  14. They asked if you were the legal guardian of an adult… Do people think before they speak? They should before dumb shit like that falls out.

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