Take-away cocktails, a lifeline for food companies across the city and one of the most popular measures to weather the pandemic, will come to an abrupt end this week. At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the New York state of emergency, which has allowed restaurants and bars to sell take-away alcoholic beverages since March 2020, will be lifted after Thursday, June 24th.
“The emergency is over,” said Cuomo. “It’s a new one.”
Cuomo had previously extended the state’s temporary take-away cocktail program by 30 days by 30 days, which expires on July 5, but city and state organizations are now interpreting the end of the state of emergency as an early end to alcohol to-go for restaurants and bars. According to the announcement, the New York State Liquor Authority tweeted that “… with the end of our state of emergency and the return to pre-pandemic policies, temporary pandemic-related privileges for to-go and delivery of alcoholic beverages will end after June 24th.” A spokesman for the SLA confirmed to Eater that from tomorrow all alcohol-to-go sales, with the exception of beer, will no longer be allowed in restaurants and bars. Beer could previously be sold for takeaway and delivery prior to the pandemic.
The surprise announcement embarrassed restaurant and bar owners. “We expected this to end at some point, but it’s way too early,” Moshe Schulman, a partner at Ruffian and Kindred in the East Village, said in an email. “Yes, we are going back to life after the pandemic; however, business is far from normal. It will take another six months to a year for most businesses to return to a sustainable and stable place. Alcohol consumption was critical to our business and so many others – why take it away now? “
Several bar owners, including Schulman and Jeremy Andre of Barely Disfigured in Brooklyn, say they received no advance notice from state officials about the end of the program.
“As a well thought-out company, we try to plan for a year or at least several months,” says Patrick Cournot, another partner at Ruffian and Kindred in the East Village. “When the government makes such changes that are not urgent, it creates chaos and also forces us to be incompetent.”
During the pandemic, takeaway and delivery beverage sales helped some food companies stay afloat and accounted for up to 50 percent of some restaurants’ sales. Even as New York emerges from the pandemic, take-away alcohol remains a small “lifeline” for many companies, according to Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association. “Restaurants are struggling to find staff, keep pace with rising costs and manage limited product ranges, and nearly two-thirds of applicants do not receive restaurant aid,” she said in a statement to Eater.
However, for some owners the take away alcohol allowance is not missed. Andre of Barely Disfigured says that while the program was a lifeline in the early months of the pandemic when restaurants and bars were takeaway and delivery only, it has been since the 150-seat only bar reopened in May. Of the around 300 customers who have frequented the bar on Friday and Saturday evenings since Barely Disfigured reopened, the vast majority are not looking for any to-go options.
Still, surveys have shown that the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers want takeaway cocktails to become permanent. In June 2020, about three months after the temporary program began, a NYSRA poll estimated that 86 percent of New Yorkers wanted takeaway liquor sales to continue after the pandemic. According to Fleischut, recent surveys put this number at 78 percent.
Licensees are cautioned that with the end of our state of emergency and the return to pre-pandemic policies, the temporary pandemic-related privileges for takeaway and delivery of alcoholic beverages will end after June 24th. pic.twitter.com/bkjnbbvBw4
– NYS Liquor Authority (@NY_SLA) June 23, 2021
The state’s temporary take-away cocktail program, which allows restaurants and bars to sell bottles of wine and take-away cocktails, has been extended several times since the pandemic began. Elected officials introduced a law earlier this year to make the program permanent, but the law did was not passed before the New York legislature ended its current term in mid-June.
“It’s a real shame that state lawmakers haven’t expanded alcohol to help troubled restaurants make their long recovery while maintaining popular policies,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance said in an email to Eater. “We will continue to work to ensure that alcohol is withdrawn in the next legislative period, which restaurants and customs alike would like very much.” The next meeting of state lawmakers is scheduled for January 2022, but a special session could come earlier.
The sale of take-away and delivery alcohol was already almost firmly established a dozen states across the country. Texas made takeaway alcohol sales permanent middle of Maywhile Florida followed suit for some restaurants in the same week. Early June, California advanced legalization Take-away cocktails until the end of 2021.
On June 21, the seven-day average COVID-19 test positive rate in NYC was 0.54 percent City data, Tracking well below the officials’ safety threshold of 5 percent. More than 11 million New Yorkers – nearly 60 percent of the state’s population – have received at least one dose of the vaccine at the time of publication Status data.
Update, 5:25 p.m .: This story has been updated with additional information from the state spirits agency.