Blowouts, Bubbly And Capitol Games

By Dan Morain
The Sacramento Bee.

Drybar is the oh-so-chic chain of salons in Orange County, Beverly Hills and Manhattan, where women of means get their hair professionally blow-dried, or something.

One fashion magazine declared Drybar founder Alli Webb to be a fashion innovator who pulls the strings behind the biggest trends in beauty. Fortune magazine listed her as one of the top entrepreneurs under 40.

“No cuts. No color. Just blowouts! You see, we believe that everyone (even us pros) prefers having someone else blow out their hair. Why? It just looks better!” its website says.

I wouldn’t know. Nor would Sacramento. The nearest Drybars are at Union Square and in Pacific Heights. But Sacramento does have stylish string-pullers not found in those fancy places, namely Sen. Ed Hernandez, a Democrat who represents Azusa, a town devoid of Drybars.

Drybar blew into Sacramento last week, and had a bad hair day.

As you might guess from its name, Drybar fashions itself as part salon, part bar. Its “menu” invites customers to “pick your poison” and names its “blowouts” Cosmo, Martini, Straight Up, Dirty Martini and Manhattan. Drybar also offers customers glasses of wine or champagne at no charge.

Until, that is, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control informed the chain that there’s a law against that.

It’s a misdemeanor for businesses to offer alcohol without an ABC license. .

Drybar came up with a solution: Hire Joe Lang, lead partner in one of this town’s top lobbying firms, and seek help from Assemblyman Tom Daly, a Democrat whose Orange County district is near Drybar’s corporate headquarters in Irvine.

Daly introduced Assembly Bill 1322, which would legalize the practice of salons offering a little wine or beer for free with that trim, color, or fashionable blow-dry. Assemblyman Scott Wilk, a Republican from Saugus, signed up as co-author. Noting that his wife frequents parlors that have served bubbly, he suggested, tongue in cheek, that they call it Vanessa’s Law.

“I was shocked that it was illegal,” Wilk said.

Drybar, whose representatives didn’t return my calls, clearly knows about creating buzz. Celebrities love its salons, its news releases say. As evidenced by reports in the financial press, it’s also adept at raising venture capital.

Drybar isn’t new to politics, having won similar legislation last year in Maryland. Martin O’Malley, then Maryland’s governor and now a presidential candidate, declared July 1, 2014, to be “Buttercup Day,” the day Drybar could start legally serving beer and wine with its blow-dries. But Maryland is a long way from Sacramento.

The Assembly approved the Daly-Wilk bill 74-0. At the bill’s first Senate hearing, Senate Governmental Organization Committee chairman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, last week recommended that the committee pass it, with a few amendments.

But Sen. Hernandez, whose wife trims the strands left on his pate, took to the microphone and began asking pointed questions: Would barbers, or blow-driers, serve one glass, or four or five?

Could the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology’s 23 inspectors suddenly become alcohol cops? Could Alcoholic Beverage Control, which has 145 agents, oversee the 50,473 establishments licensed by Barbering and Cosmetology? Good questions, all.

Lang tried to answer. Hernandez, annoyed, accused Lang of not having “the courtesy to look me in the face or the eye.” Eye, being the operative word, as will become apparent. Lang tried to apologize. Hernandez was unmoved. The bill stalled.

“I quickly concluded that it wasn’t about me or my bill. He was upset with the lobbyist,” Daly told me. “I’ve learned a lot of things in three years in the Assembly. One thing is that everything is connected.”

The connection might seem tenuous, but only to the uninitiated. Earlier this month, Hernandez, an optometrist, presented a measure that is dear to him, Senate Bill 622, which would allow optometrists to perform certain types of surgery on eyes, and treat glaucoma, turf claimed by eye doctors. Ophthalmologists and other doctors lobbied against the bill, aided by Lang. It died.

Hernandez said the two bills are not connected, and listed several of his bills that have faltered. “If I took it personally,” he said, “I wouldn’t have any friends.”

Lang is nothing if not tenacious. The bill will come back, if not this year, then in January. The financial press speculates that Drybar soon could have an initial public offering. The ability to legally serve a glass of champagne would enhance the company’s value. And that means there is more to the Daly-Wilk bill than hot air.

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