On a warm day, diners can enjoy a breeze at Taylor Gourmet, thanks to the restaurant’s large, unscreened windows. But not in Bethesda.
In the interest of preventing vermin, it is a health code violation for Maryland restaurants to keep unscreened doors and windows open.
There are 35 restaurants in the county who are affected by the regulation, including 28 in Bethesda, five in Rockville and two in Silver Spring, said Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health. She said restaurants in violation are directed to close the offending door or window, but she does not have data on how often this has happened.
The regulation caught the attention of the restaurant community in 2010, after the county health department delayed the opening of American Tap Room in Bethesda until owners screened the restaurant’s large windows.
Among the restaurants clamoring to keep their windows open was Rí Rá Irish Pub in Bethesda. Its windows have since been hermetically sealed.
“They blocked them all up, so we can’t even be opened if we wanted to,” said Paul Turner, the pub’s general manager.
Glass-paneled garage doors that open to the street are an integral part of Taylor Gourmet’s design, but the Bethesda location was forced to install screens, said General Manager Luis Fermin. He said the eatery’s Washington, D.C., locations are cooler and have better atmosphere.
“It’s essentially like you’re eating outside,” Fermin said. “The screen kind of takes away from that effect, but it’s better than nothing.”
The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce has been working with the Restaurant Association of Maryland and chambers in Silver Spring and Rockville to find a compromise, said Ginanne Italiano, executive director of the B-CC Chamber. Negotiations with the state are ongoing.
A pair of bills in the Maryland House and Senate would grant local departments of health the discretion to allow open doors and windows. Both are in committee.
It is unclear how likely they are to pass before the state legislature adjourns April 9. Before legislators can concentrate on health code, they must first work on same sex marriage and the state budget, said Charlotte Davis, legislative aid for State Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda. The bills are being sponsored by 24 delegates and 11 senators, including Frosh.
“We do feel confident,” Italiano said. “I don’t think anybody is against it.”