State Watch

New York nixes cocktails-to-go after pandemic experiment

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New York, which became the first state to extend a critical lifeline to restaurants early on in the pandemic by allowing them to serve cocktails to-go and by delivery, is ending its take-out beverage trend, even as other states look to continue the practice.

As of Thursday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) formally lifted a state of emergency related to the coronavirus, the state Liquor Authority advised businesses that hold liquor licenses they will no longer be able to sell alcohol for off-site consumption.

New York restaurants are still struggling to reclaim revenue lost during the pandemic, and hundreds of thousands of establishments have closed either permanently or temporarily across the country.

In a radio interview Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), Cuomo’s frequent sparring partner, called the decision a mistake.

“I think it’s a mistake to cut it off so soon. I think it would be smart to continue that opportunity for bars and restaurants to do more business, to stay alive and strong and come back,” de Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.

“What I would say to the State of New York is don’t make it permanent, but do continue it at least for this calendar year, maybe into 2022. Because we need our restaurants and bars to be strong as part of the life and the economy of the city, hundreds of thousands of jobs,” de Blasio said. “We need them as part of tourism coming back. And this is part of how they survive. So, why not give them a little more of a helping hand? It worked, it really did work.”

A top legislative aide in Albany said New York’s legislature had discussed legislation to extend the to-go cocktail craze. But those talks broke down because of infighting between interest groups and community groups in various parts of the state, and amid other pandemic-related priorities that took precedence.

But the trend of take-out booze is likely to outlive the pandemic in a handful of states, and the end of to-go sales puts New York at the back of a pack it once led. 

Most other states followed New York’s lead in allowing off-site consumption, and so far, 15 states have passed measures to make permanent those sales and another dozen have allowed to-go sales to outlast the pandemic era.

Those take-out and delivery sales have been embraced by legislatures in both deep red states like Arkansas and Oklahoma and deep blue Oregon, along with the District of Columbia, Montana, Texas and Wisconsin. Four more states, including California and New Jersey, have active measures pending before legislatures.

Only two other states, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, have already ended their pandemic-era take-out beverage rules.

“It’s sadly ironic that New York, the state that kicked-off this truly innovative COVID-19 economic relief measure, is now shutting it down,” said Lisa Hawkins, the top spokesperson for the Distilled Spirits Council, the liquor industry’s top interest group in Washington.

“Just because restaurants are starting to reopen, doesn’t mean they have recovered. It is going to take time to bounce back, and sales of cocktails to-go provided an added source of revenue to accelerate their recovery,” Hawkins said. “The legislature should have stepped up and passed the cocktails to-go bill to support the revitalization of New York’s restaurants and the jobs, tourism and tax revenue these businesses generate for the state.”

Tags Andrew Cuomo Bill de Blasio New York to-go cocktails

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