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Restaurants, Pols Revive Push for ‘Drinks-to-Go’

They Say It’s Needed to Revive Threatened Industry

March 24, 2022 Raanan Geberer, Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Restaurateurs, bar owners and their supporters, aided by state legislators, are renewing their push to make “drinks-to-go,” a measure established by executive order in 2020, permanent under state law.

Under drinks-to-go, a restaurant can deliver, or make available for takeout, an alcoholic drink along with food — something not allowed before the COVID-19 pandemic except for beer. Owners, most of whom are in debt, say the money derived from offering drinks-to-go is essential for their recovery.

The measure has been strongly supported by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who said at a news conference, “This is what kept people afloat during those dark, dark months and months and years of the pandemic.” However, it was dropped from a package of recovery bills earlier this month in Albany. Advocates hope they can resurrect the bill and pass it as part of the next New York State budget within the next few weeks.

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The bill’s sponsor in the Assembly is Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Gravesend-Homecrest-Brighton Beach-Manhattan Beach). In the Senate, it’s Leroy Comrie (D-Queens).

Brooklyn’s Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz (right), the Assembly sponsor of the “Drinks-to-Go” bill, with Councilmember Kalman Yeger.
Twitter photo

“You have to remember,” Cymbrowitz told the Eagle, “that at that time [when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued his original executive order], the restaurants were open only for takeout and delivery. We were looking to do something that would increase recovery for restaurant revenue — for example, a Mexican restaurant could give a margarita with a takeout order, and an Italian restaurant could give a glass of Chianti.”

One reason some people objected, Cymbrowitz said, is that although the order had a proviso that you had to order food to get drinks-to-go, many people were just ordering small amounts of peanuts or chips to get around the law, then hanging out outside the bar or restaurant “until all hours of the night.”

In July 2020, the measure was amended, and customers who wanted drinks-to-go now had to order more substantial food. Still, this image, he added, was exploited by the liquor-store industry, which opposes the measure.

Cymbrowitz said his bill contains a proviso that restaurant patrons couldn’t buy a full bottle of an alcoholic beverage for pickup or delivery, something that would protect liquor stores. Even so, he said, “the liquor store industry was using as many scare tactics as possible.”

A couple share drinks outdoors at e’s Bar in Manhattan on Monday, May 17, 2021.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Angela Terry, owner of Therapy Wine Bar at 260 Malcolm X Blvd. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which opened in November 2021, said, “Drinks-to-go will give me another revenue stream to make up the bottom line, since there was so much that was lost. [Without it] you might have a ticket that’s $30, but with it, it’s now $50.”

Terry, who is also a board member of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, which represents the city’s restaurant and nightlife industry, added that, in her opinion, drinks-to-go won’t damage liquor store sales. “Drinks-to-go is more about your own signature cocktails. It lends itself to more creativity, expanding sales and increasing visibility. In liquor stores, you’re buying straight spirits or wine.”

Robert Bookman, counsel to the above-named NYC Hospitality Alliance, said that “everyone likes to think that COVID is over, but it isn’t over for the restaurant industry. They’re deeply in debt, and two-thirds of those who applied for a federal bailout were shut out. To come out of that, they need every revenue stream they can get. They’re nowhere near back to normal.”

Even as recently as December, Bookman said, more than half of those offices who had holiday parties canceled, because of the Omicron variant.

“The only opposition is from liquor stores,” he added. “The liquor stores are very well-organized and give a lot of political donations. They did very well during COVID, when they were deemed essential [and allowed to remain open].”

 


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