Governor Kathy Hochul’s efforts to make take-out liquor a permanent New York City staple still have plenty of unanswered questions; the main one being whether the law will even pass. But even with an uncertain future, bars are gearing up to be able to sell full-time takeout alcohol.
Take-out alcohol has rapidly gained popularity during the pandemic after former Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an emergency bill to help keep bars and restaurants open. Last year, a bill was introduced to make it permanent, but the bill was dropped. Opposition came from liquor stores who claimed they were losing profits. The New York State Liquor Association claimed the temporary order resulted in an oversaturation of the wine and spirits market as well as numerous health violations.
Now that the legislation is being reintroduced with the full support of the Hochul, it is unclear whether it will pass or be scrapped again. His office responded to a request for comment saying, “Governor Hochul understands that the hospitality industry has been and is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. She will continue to work with the Legislative Assembly and the beverage alcohol industry to craft legislation that will help our businesses get back on their feet and thrive in their communities.
While the new bill aims to help bars, bar owners aren’t keen. For starters, there’s a mix of thoughts on whether or not to pass the new bill. “It’s a bit like pissing in the wind,” says Ken Hart of Schilling Bar & Restaurant. “I will say that I don’t have that much faith in the New York government right now.”
Meanwhile, Frank Gleeson, who runs White Horse Tavern in the financial district, said: ‘There seems to be a sort of positive attitude about it within the current government, so I suspect it will be embraced. But who knows?”
“Not Really Enough”
While the initial order allowed the bars to keep their doors open during quarantine, they aren’t making enough money to make it a worthy addition to their permanent business plan.
“When you have close to $30,000 in rent, like our Chelsea location, you need people to come and sit down, averaging $50-60 a check,” says Brendan Clinkscales, owner of The Copper Still. When Cuomo announced that the initial order, Clinkscales was “selling beers and cans at the same price as liquor stores, but that’s not enough to really help me.”
Hart shared a similar sentiment about the lack of profits. “Unfortunately, it won’t generate too much revenue,” he says. “But it should help at least one or two percent more for a normal weekly income.” Hart hopes that in the long run they can increase that to 5-10%.
Along with the lack of increased revenue, bar owners fear they’ll end up spending more money. Clinkscales is particularly concerned about the potential increase in insurance costs. “I bet next year one of my questions when filling out my insurance application will now be: ‘Do you drink alcohol to go? he says. Clinkscales thinks the response from insurance companies will be to raise premiums. “Do I earn $3,000 in drinks to go” to offset the costs, he asks.
Then there is the question of liability. While takeout alcohol may be on the way to legality, open containers are not. When people inevitably start drinking on the street, it’s unclear who will be responsible. Clinkscales wonders “If this person is caught drinking this cocktail, it will more than likely have your logo on it”, who will be held responsible – potentially bars.
With the possibility of people drinking illegally on the street, bars will likely have to find ways to securely package take-out drinks. During the pandemic, drinks weren’t dispensed in airtight containers, but instead in plastic or coffee cups, but Clinkscales worries that might change. “If I want to make take-out cocktails now, I have to seal all these bottles so they won’t crack when opened,” he says. “It’s a bit tricky.”
Despite the potential concerns, bar owners are still preparing for the future potential of permanent takeout alcohol. “We’re working on a program on our site to do more like a bespoke cocktail tasting,” Hart explains, “like a monthly program.” Organized takeout boxes seem to be a theme for bars.
Clinkscales talked about the potential of working with whiskey distilleries to design cocktail boxes that people can make at home. “I think the best way to do that for us and our business model is – it’s a 375 milliliter bottle, it’s already shaken, and all you have to do is quickly chill it or put it in the fridge,” he said. . “Maybe we charge you $24 for something that would cost $30.” The Clinkscales plan is still in its infancy and of course depends on the passage of this new bill.
Everything is still up in the air and will remain so until the new legislation passes (or fails). While some people remain hopeful – White Horse’s Frank Gleeson says, “Everything helps in an environment like this” – the current situation does not encourage a sense of security for the future of bars and their income. . ” It’s a good idea. Hopefully it will make some money for us,” Clinkscales says. “But it will never be a matter of bread and butter for us, it will not make us survive.”