A Columbia Street bar that was written up last month by the city Health Department after one of its bartenders used his bare hand — horrors! — to place a lime inside a bottle of Corona is now using tongs to stay on the right side of the law, even as its customers call it a sell-out to the bureaucrats.
A surprise inspection by a Brooklyn Paper reporter revealed that Moonshine bar, on Columbia Street between Woodhull Street and Hamilton Avenue, is indeed following the letter (though not the spirit) of a city law forbidding skin-to-lime contact — but the visit also revealed that the bar may have sold some small piece of its soul.
In addition to the sanitary lime infusions that Moonshine Coronas now receive, the bar has curtailed some of the practices that made it beloved, such as allowing dogs to roam around (dog hair, you know) and allowing customers to bring their own meat for weekend cookouts (apparently, the propane was a fire hazard, the city said).
“They’ve managed to remove all the character from this place,” said barfly Michael Abegg. And the staff feels like it’s only being harassed by the city at a time when public safety is a bigger issue.
“The thing that I find frustrating is that our tax dollars are being used to shut us down, but every bar is being held up at gunpoint,” said Marnie Ludwig, a bartender.
Ludwig was tending bar the night an armed man robbed Moonshine in September. A suspect was arrested last month the second time he attempted to rob Bait and Tackle, another Red Hook drinking establishment.
But Ludwig has managed to keep her sense of humor through it all.
“You can tell the city we’re shooting fruit from our vaginas.”
“If you actually were doing that, this place would never be empty,” chimed in one regular.
They can afford to joke now, but last month the bar’s future was in jeopardy.
Moonshine failed three consecutive health inspections, the last on Oct. 9, gained them a bit of notoriety for the lime crime. (The bar was closed that night because it failed the inspection for many reasons, not just the lime wedge incident, but it reopened Oct. 11 after passing another review.)
So when The Brooklyn Paper stopped in, unannounced, on Tuesday, we found that the barkeeps were no longer doing what bartenders everywhere else in America do — use ungloved hands to drop a lime wedge into drinks and those delightful Mexican lagers.
To be fair to city health inspectors, restaurant and bar workers are not allowed to touch food without gloves — and limes are food. But the timing of the bust — coming on the heels of a Sanitation Department graffiti warning letter sent to a Park Slope 6-year-old who used sidewalk chalk — ensured that the entire city would soon be talking about it.
As a result, even the Health Department admitted that busting Moonshine was odd.
“This violation is not commonly cited for putting limes in beers,” said a spokesperson.
The staff had clearly learned a lesson. When this reporter ordered a Corona, he was first asked if he wanted it with lime. Then, to serve it, bartender Rebecca Spiro grabbed the wedge with tongs and shoved the piece of citrus halfway into the bottle.
“Things were changed immediately,” said Spiro, referring to the new lime code. “The owner did a lot to keep the bar open, but it’s come at a cost.”
For an experienced bartender like Spirro, Moonshine’s problems with the Health Department are ironic.
“This is the cleanest bar I’ve ever worked in,” she said.
“I’ve bartended in some places with obvious rat and cockroach infestations that never got written up.”