An icy margarita with your to-go order of tacos is close to becoming a reality in Pennsylvania, as the state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill allowing bars and licensed restaurants to sell mixed drinks for takeout during the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill’s next step is the House for signing and then to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf, who has indicated that he would sign it, providing a shot in the arm for businesses that have been largely idled since mid-March, when dining rooms and barrooms were closed by Wolf’s order.
Bars — from the humblest hole-in-the-wall to the poshest white-tablecloth restaurant — would be able to start serving immediately at the final stroke of Wolf’s pen, and many have takeout containers at the ready.
The measure, unprecedented in Pennsylvania history, is not intended to be permanent.
Alcohol accounts for virtually all sales at many bars, and a sizable chunk of sales at restaurants. Beer-to-go sales have been allowed during the shutdown.
HB 372 would allow licensees with a restaurant (R) or hotel (H) license that have lost more than 25% of average monthly sales during the pandemic to serve sealed containers of mixed drinks in servings of 4 to 64 ounces before 11 p.m. The takeout drink sales would be permitted only during the emergency and for the period after the emergency during which a licensee is operating at less than 60% capacity.
The 4-ounce minimum would prohibit sales of shots, said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, which helped draft the bill, as did the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association. Club licensees, held by such entities as American Legion posts as well as social clubs such as Palizzi and Messina, are not included.
A sealed container can be as low-tech as a conventional soda cup. A lid with sipping holes or an opening for straws must be capped with an additional seal. The bill also requires drinks to be sold with “meals,” but it does not define what constitutes them.
The bill also will allow one licensee to sell liquor to another, allowing a restaurant or bar that chooses not to reopen to cut unneeded inventory.
Many restaurants have jumped the gun on takeout-cocktail sales, and the state police — which enforces the liquor code — issued warnings.