Young and Hungry

D.C. Water Gives Its Two Cents On Elisir’s 29-Cent Water Surcharge

All the chatter this week about the cost of water (29 cents per guest for filtered tap) at chef Enzo Fargione's new Penn Quarter eatery Elisir, which opens Wednesday night, left me parched for more info. I wondered, what's the average price of tap water, anyway? You know, for the guy who is actually paying the water bill.

For some perspective, Y&H reached out to Sarah Neiderer of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, who first took the opportunity to shoot down the restaurant's reasoning for the water surcharge in the first place (basically, that the quality of D.C. tap water is "notoriously bad").

In fact, Neiderer tells me she had just gotten off the phone with the restaurant's general manager during what I'm presuming was a very pleasant chat about water quality. Says Neiderer, "We hope, in the future, that if they are giving a justification for why they're providing filtered tap water at a cost, that they don't use the quality of the D.C. tap water as a reasoning for that, because our tap water is safe—and cheaper."

How cheap are we talking? Neiderer tells me that District residents pay around a "penny per gallon" for their water at home. That means you're getting about 29 gallons out of your faucet for the cost of filtered tap water at Elisir.

Of course, the restaurant is filtering the stuff through some fancy machinery, specifically, a Vivreau water bottling system that purifies tap water into both still and sparkling varieties. That undoubtedly adds to the the restaurant's aqua overhead.

Helpfully, Neiderer had already crunched the numbers on that part of the equation, too. Similar machines cost around $4,000, she tells me, meaning that a restaurant would need to charge some 15,000 customers that 29-cent rate to recoup its investment in the filtration equipment.

[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post identified the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority by its old acronym: WASA. The agency has abandoned that moniker and the item has been updated to reflect that change. Also: the original write-up mistakenly stated that Elisir's 29-cent surcharge applied to each glass. To the contrary, the restaurant says the surcharge will be applied per guest, allowing for unlimited bottled water at the table. The item has been updated to correct that error, as well. The author regrets these oversights.]

Photo by Jorge Barrios

  • Skipper

    DC WASA's legal name is still DC WASA. They can call themselves Justin Bieber's Passed Water, but that's not their legal name.

  • Chris Shott

    Thanks, Skip. I consulted the top editors on this. Our style is now D.C. Water. So that's what I'm going with.

  • Enzo Fargione

    Mr. Shott,
    To set the record straight: Elisir Restaurant is charging 29 c per guest for unlimited consumption of bottle water, not by the glass.

    Thank you in advance for correcting your wrong posted statement
    Enzo Fargione

  • DC Water


    We're sorry, but your statement is incorrect. DC Code § 34-2201.02(a) (1996) says the following:

    "There is established, as an independent authority of the
    District government, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority."

    The name DC WASA does not appear in this or any other section of the code. It is not, and has never been, the legal name of the Authority. It was simply an abbreviation used from 1996 to 2010. Our agency now uses DC Water as its abbreviated name.

    You might also be interested to know that the DC Water logo and "Water is life" slogan are now registered trademarks.

    @Chris, thank you for making the change to your blog post.

  • jburka

    The water in DC may not be "notoriously bad" with respect to consumer's health. And I like the pH of it. But it tastes fairly awful. It's not the worst American tap water I've had (Wrightsville Beach, NC, where the water is soft and reeks of sulfur). But it's pretty unpalatable without filtering.

    So kudos to Elisir for not even offering to serve DC water straight from the tap.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of restaurants in the area using the Natura filtration (and optional carbonation) system and they seem to manage to get by without a surcharge. I really want to know where the $0.29 value came from. Are the kitchen's margins really so low that the $1.16 per four-top can't be written off?

  • Chris Shott

    Mr. Fargione,

    The item has been corrected to reflect that glass/bottle discrepancy. Thank you for letting me know.

    Apologies for all the snafus today, folks. Any other fuck-ups I should know about? Please advise.


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