While the District of Columbia is not a state, it has its own beer laws like a state. Whether you are visiting or live in DC, you need to know these laws. What do the alcohol laws look like in Washington, D.C. in 2023?
In Washington, D.C. you can buy a beer 7 days a week. Off-premise retailers can sell alcohol from 6 am until 1 am. On-premise retailers can sell alcohol between 6 am and 2 am on Monday through Friday or 6 am until 3 am on Saturday and Sunday. The District also allows alcohol delivery and growlers.
There are many laws to learn when visiting the Capitol of the US. In addition to when and where you can get a beer, you should also know the specifics of alcohol delivery as well as the laws surrounding drinking alcohol.
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Is the District of Columbia a dry district?
For a state (or district) to be considered dry it must prohibit or heavily restrict the production or sale of alcohol. There are no dry states in the US.
The District of Columbia is not a dry district. Alcohol is legal to sell and produce.
Many states have dry counties or towns. As D.C. is so small this is not an option.
Does the District of Columbia have any dry sections?
There are no areas of D.C. that are dry in the sense of alcohol.
Alcohol can be sold anywhere in the District. There is however an alcohol-free movement along with a new alcohol-free bar called Binge Bar.
When can you buy beer in the District of Columbia?
The District of Columbia does set the hours when alcohol can be sold. This restriction is not heavy enough to change D.C.’s wet designation. It is even more relaxed than in some states.
You can buy beer from on-premise retailers between 6 am and 2 am Monday through Friday. Saturday through Sunday the on-premise hours are from 6 am until 3 am. Off-premise retailers can sell alcohol between 6 am and 1 am every day of the week.
Off-premise retailers include grocery and liquor stores. On-premise retailers are any place you can drink on location.
Can you buy beer on Sunday in the District of Columbia?
Many states have or used to have special restrictions on alcohol sales on Sunday. These laws, “blue laws,” were often religiously motivated.
You can buy alcohol on Sunday in D.C. There are no blue laws. In fact, the hours on Sunday are extended.
On-premise retailers can even open for extended hours during certain holidays. Some of these holidays include Independence Day, Martin Luther King Day, and New Year’s Day.
When do bars close in the District of Columbia?
Even in the capitol, bars must close eventually. Once this happens, the night out usually comes to an end. It is helpful to know these times so you can plan ahead.
Bars in D.C. close at 2 am Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, the bars close at 3 am.
Some businesses may close earlier for various reasons.
Where can you buy beer in the District of Columbia?
In addition to restricting when you can buy a beer, states and districts can restrict where you can get alcohol. Sometimes certain retailers can only sell certain types of alcohol or are restricted from selling one type. Liquor is often only sold at bars and liquor stores.
The places you can buy beer in the District of Columbia include:
- Bars and restaurants
- Grocery stores
- Package and liquor stores
- Breweries and taprooms
Each of these retailers has specific rules they must follow. Below, I will go over the most important rules at each retailer.
Bars and restaurants
Bars and restaurants in D.C. can sell beer, wine, and liquor from 6 am until 2 am Monday through Friday. That range is extended to 3 am on Saturday and Sunday. Alcohol sales can be for both on and off-premise consumption though delivery can only be between 6 am and midnight.
Alcohol delivery from these retailers must be accompanied by food.
D.C. grocery stores can sell beer, wine, cider, and mead from 6 am until 1 am every day of the week. All sales are for off-premise consumption. The alcohol can be sold in its original packaging or in growlers.
D.C. hotels can sell beer, wine, and liquor to their guests. They can do so from 6 am until 2 am Monday through Friday or until 3 am on Saturday and Sunday. Hotels can sell alcohol for consumption at the hotel bar or deliver it to their guest’s rooms.
The hotel alcohol store is limited to containers of 70 ounces or less. These stores can’t have streetside access. Additionally, most hotel bars or convenience stores won’t be open for the full range allowed.
Package and liquor stores
Liquor stores in D.C. can sell beer, wine, and liquor between 6 am and 1 am 7 days a week. All sales are for off-premise consumption. Alcohol can be sold in its original packaging or in growlers.
Breweries and taprooms
D.C. breweries and brewpubs can sell the beer manufactured at the brewery or with a partnership. They can do so between 6 am and 1 am. Sales can be for on and off-premise consumption. Additionally, sales can be in sealed packaging or growlers.
Can you get beer delivered in the District of Columbia?
In this age of technology, you can also buy beer from your home. Alcohol delivery isn’t legal everywhere and can come with many restrictions.
You can get beer delivered in D.C. with a few restrictions. These restrictions include:
- Deliveries can be made by the licensee’s employees or a third-party service
- Deliveries from restaurants, bars, and similar retailers must include food
- Deliveries can be fulfilled between 6 am and midnight
- The customer must show proof of age upon delivery
- Beer deliveries can include growlers
What is the minimum drinking age in the District of Columbia?
Even though D.C. is not a state, it does maintain the same minimum drinking age as the 50 states. This is the same throughout the country.
The minimum drinking age is 21 in the District of Columbia.
However, some states allow a few exceptions to this law.
Can minors drink beer in the District of Columbia with parents?
One of the most common exceptions allows parents to provide their underage children with alcohol. This is designed to allow parents to educate their kids on the dangers of alcohol if abused.
Minors cannot drink with their parents in the District of Columbia. It does not matter if both parent and child are in a private location.
Other common exceptions include religious, educational, and medical reasons.
District alcohol laws
The 50 states fall into one of two categories when it comes to their overall alcohol laws. They are either a control state or a license state.
Control states are directly involved in the alcohol industry. These states will control the wholesaling and sometimes retailing of alcohol. They decide what alcohol enters the state and how much it costs.
License states do not control the wholesaling of alcohol. These states will set the requirements for licenses and manage them. Wholesale is left to private businesses.
The District does not fall into the control category. D.C.’s alcohol laws are managed by the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA. This administration does not get directly involved in the everyday activity of the alcohol industry.
One peculiarity of D.C.’s alcohol laws is that licensees can purchase alcohol directly from manufacturers. They can skip over the distributors.
Drinking laws in the District of Columbia
When you know the when and where of purchasing alcohol, you next need to learn a few important laws surrounding drinking. These are laws that discourage the abuse of alcohol in various ways.
The drinking laws of D.C. are quite laid back in comparison to many states. Where the laws are not more relaxed are the penalties for drunk driving.
The drinking laws in D.C. are continually appraised and adjusted. Most are in place to protect the general public.
Can you buy growlers and other unsealed beer containers in the District of Columbia?
When purchasing craft beer you have a few options. One of which is the ever-popular growler. Unfortunately, many states require you to jump through several hoops, if growlers are legal at all.
You can buy growlers in D.C. with only a few regulations. The growler can’t be bigger than 64 ounces. Growlers can’t hold liquor or other alcohol that exceeds 15% ABV.
Aside from those regulations, the rules are up to the location filling them. That they must be sanitized before refilling is a standard.
Once growlers are filled they are usually sealed in a way that makes tampering evident. When this seal is broken, they are considered open containers. Unsealed growlers and other open containers of alcohol are typically illegal to possess in a vehicle.
It is illegal for the driver and passengers in a motor vehicle to possess an open container.
Most states specify where an open container may be placed to avoid breaking this law. D.C. law does not but conviction requires that the passenger or driver had the open container within reach.
Once you drink alcohol, legal limits detail the cutoff point before it is illegal to drive.
D.C. law sets the penalties and legal limits for drunk drivers based on their age. The circumstances surrounding the arrest can increase the penalties applied.
Additionally, subsequent convictions can increase the penalties.
Under 21 years old
The legal limit for drivers under 21 years old in the District of Columbia is 0% BAC. The penalties for a conviction can include:
- License suspension for up to 6 months
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Jail time for up to 180 days
D.C. has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drunk driving. This means full penalties are possible.
21 years and older
The legal limit for drivers 21 years old and older in the District of Columbia is 0.08% BAC. The penalties for a conviction can include:
- License suspension for up to 6 months
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Jail time for up to 180 days