Alcohol board douses free-drinks reward
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – No sooner had El Adobe de Capistrano restaurant started offering a free pitcher of beer or margaritas as a reward for the return of a missing sign, it received a call Wednesday from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control saying it can't do it.
El Adobe events manager Stacy Strausbaugh said a department official said offering free alcohol would violate the terms of the restaurant's alcohol license. The call came about an hour after a story about the missing sign and the reward was published Wednesday afternoon on ocregister.com, Strausbaugh said.
"It was supposed to be a funny joke, but (the department) takes this kind of thing very seriously, apparently," Strausbaugh said.
John Carr, a spokesman for the department, confirmed that an investigator spoke to an employee at the restaurant. No penalties were discussed, he said.
"Basically, any place that sells alcohol can't give away free drinks," Carr said.
The department typically prioritizes cases that involve drugs, underage drinking and stolen property, Carr said. But it isn't uncommon to make a "courtesy call" to let a business know that free drinks aren't allowed, he said.
"We do hope that they find their sign though," Carr said.
The landmark restaurant's private-events sign apparently was stolen Jan. 4 after a spirited party celebrating the life of a recently deceased Swallow's Inn bartender. Alcohol was served that night, and Strausbaugh said she thought someone stole the sign as a practical joke.
But weeks passed and the sign wasn't returned. Strausbaugh planned to purchase a new sign, but Tuesday, she uploaded a tongue-in-cheek poster to the restaurant's Facebook page that read: ""MISSING: El Adobe's private event sign. REWARD for safe return: a free pitcher of margaritas or beer."
Strausbaugh said the picture was a facetious last-ditch effort to get the sign back, and she thought the reward would "appeal to (the thief's) demographic."
Strausbaugh said the restaurant will not offer free drinks as a reward, and the message has been removed from the Facebook page. It now says, "Reward for safe return."
She said she hasn't decided what the new reward will be.
"Maybe $25 of free tacos," Strausbaugh said. "Because we're definitely allowed to give out free food."
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