Elisir Stops Charging for Filtered Water

Chef-owner Enzo Fargione has eliminated his much-maligned H20 surcharges.

By: Todd Kliman

Elisir, where filtered water is now free. Photograph by Kyle Gustafson

Watergate, it would appear, is over.

Elisir—the swanky Penn Quarter restaurant that announced via my online chat this past Tuesday that it had revamped its policy of charging for water—has revamped it again.

Chef Enzo Fargione e-mailed me late last night to share the details.

The new, improved policy? Free water.

“We think our guests will appreciate getting a top-quality product free of charge,” Fargione wrote, “and it’s our pleasure to offer that for them indefinitely.”

The ambitious, chef-centric Italian restaurant has been open just a little over a month, but Watergate has shadowed its debut. Before diners could discover its powerfully intense saffron risotto and superb porchetta and roast potatoes, Elisir was roundly being mocked by bloggers, posters, and, yes, chat hosters for charging 29 cents for glasses of filtered water.

“Filtered,” I wrote last week. “Like we all drink at home from our Brita.”

One chatter wrote in to suggest bringing a bottle and filling the tap in the bathroom.

On Tuesday, Fargione joined in the chat to preview a press release. It read, in part: “Elisir has revised its filtered/purified water charge policy by eliminating the originally imposed $0.29 per person and by implementing an à-la-carte bottle water charge of $3.95 instead.” Fargione added: “DC’s tap is always a free option.”

Given that entrées fetch upward of $30 and every dessert costs $12, it seemed a misguided instance of nickel-and-diming.

“Why not just filter the water and pass it on to your customers free of charge?” I responded. “Can it be that laborious and expensive a process?”

Fargione’s e-mail last night sounded a chastened, but determinedly upbeat, note.

“Sometimes in the frenetic first few weeks of opening and operating a new business, decisions are made that, though they seem to make sense at the time, ultimately prove to be the wrong decisions. The easy thing to do would be to stand pat and weather the storm that a wrong decision might cause, but we’re not afraid to admit that our initial and subsequent water charges did not best meet the needs of our guests. In an effort to best serve our valued guests, Elisir has decided to do away completely with charges for our in-house filtered and bottled sparkling and still water.

“We are striving to offer our guests a superlative dining experience in every way, and we think this decision furthers that effort. We understand that many other restaurants in Washington, DC, charge by the person or by the bottle for the same kind of filtered water we are serving, but ultimately, we have decided that we don’t need to do that. We think our guests will appreciate getting a top-quality product free of charge, and it’s our pleasure to offer that for them indefinitely.”