New York City Ends To-Go Cocktails and Leaves Restaurants Reeling

by Msnbctv news staff

To-go cocktails are now priced to move.

A financial lifeline for many restaurants during the pandemic, to-go cocktails are no more as of Friday, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo abruptly ended New York’s coronavirus emergency order, and the state’s liquor authority shut down off-premises rights.

Over the past year, the drinks were allowed under a new “off-premises privileges” rule, designed by the New York State Liquor Authority to help failing restaurants during a time of uncertainty for the food and beverage industry.

With vaccinations topping 70 percent in New York and coronavirus cases on the decline, the governor rescinded the state of emergency on Wednesday, leaving many businesses that have not yet fully recovered economically with a surplus of supplies for the to-go drinks, as well as the drinks themselves.

“They’re sitting on thousands and thousands of to-go cocktails that will be illegal to sell tomorrow,” wrote St. John Frizell, a restaurateur in Brooklyn, in an Instagram post.

And so on Thursday, as the expiration of the emergency order loomed, restaurants and bars tried to offload as much of their inventory as they could.

David Sheridan, the owner of Wheated Brooklyn, a restaurant serving pizzas and cocktails, started a “FUOMO Sale,” offering 50 percent off all take-home cocktails. Mr. Sheridan said he has at least 50 cocktails prepared in plastic juice bottles ready to sell.

Owners had expected the temporary exemption to last longer — in some cases, much longer. Sother Teague, the beverage director of Amor y Amargo, a bar in the East Village, said he is stuck with bottles, tamper-proof caps and custom labels that would have allowed him to continue selling takeout cocktails for months.

“The emergency aspect of the pandemic may be ending, but the lingering injury needs time to heal,” said Mr. Teague, who in November opened General Store by Amor y Amargo close by, selling bottled cocktails. “We’ve tread water for so long and to finally arrive at shore doesn’t automatically mean we are saved.”

Almost 10 percent of Mr. Teague’s total revenue last week came from takeout alcoholic drinks, he said, though his sales are “nowhere close to prepandemic sales.”

“This feels like a rug being pulled from under us,” he said.

Others, like Chaim Dauermann of Up & Up in Greenwich Village, expected that New York would make takeout cocktail sales permanent through new legislation, following the lead of more than a dozen other states that have already done so.

Mr. Dauermann, the front-of-house manager of Up & Up, said that the bar offered more than a dozen to-go drinks in two sizes, the sales of which kept staff employed. “It’s such an astonishingly shortsighted move, and cruel,” he said. “I have not heard of a single problem associated with this program.

“This whole pandemic period has been defined by sudden announcements about earth-shattering things, and us scrambling as to how to address it,” he said.

One group that opposed making the to-go drinks permanent: the New York State Liquor Store Association. Stefan Kalogridis, the association’s president, said he and his members had issues with restaurants being given a permanent pass to sell alcohol for off-site consumption.

“It was OK with the homemade drinks to-go, but now that Covid is over with they can go back to their normal business,” he said.

“Why change the license?” he said, speaking about legislation, adding that liquor stores aren’t encroaching on restaurants by selling food: “We can’t sell potato salad and a B.L.T.”

John T. McDonald III, a New York assembly member and a co-sponsor of a bill that would have permitted licensed businesses to sell to-go alcoholic beverages for two years, said that the bill was created with the feedback of liquor stores in mind.

“It’s great to see the pandemic is over, but at the same token, with every action is a reaction,” he said. “We listened to the retail stores. They were concerned that this was going to be abused. We thought we had the magic potion, and it turns out we don’t at this stage of the game.”

For now, owners are scrambling to make any sales they can, and are continuing to hope for legislative changes.

“I was really hoping it was going to become permanent,” said Mr. Sheridan, of Wheated Brooklyn. “I think it was really unfair to change it so rapidly. We’re a progressive state, but for liquor laws we’re very archaic.”

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