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Pa. bars and restaurants can no longer sell cocktails to-go, and outdoor dining must return to pre-pandemic levels

Philly's restaurant community reacts negatively to the state banning cocktails to go as the pandemic emergency orders come to an end.

Sueno and its outdoor dining streetery. Streeteries like this have been banned by the PLCB unless a restaurant applies for new a permit.
Sueno and its outdoor dining streetery. Streeteries like this have been banned by the PLCB unless a restaurant applies for new a permit.Read moreCOURTESY SOCIETY HILL FILMS

Members of Philadelphia’s restaurant industry are experiencing hangover-like symptoms upon hearing Tuesday’s announcement that the state was now banning the sale of cocktails to-go because the COVID-19 pandemic is winding down.

The new rules also abruptly halt the vast expansion of outdoor dining that has been a lifeline for struggling restaurants and bars. Establishments that wish to continue serving guests in their curbside streeteries must file an emergency permit and request approval.

“Given that the emergency declaration previously effective, which had allowed certain changes to how alcohol was sold and regulated over the last 16 months, was terminated today, this message clarifies what reverts back to pre-pandemic rules effective today,” the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said in a statement.

The ban took effect Tuesday.

The change in rules made by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board are a direct result of the Republican-controlled state Legislature’s campaign against Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency declaration powers, which voters just decided to limit.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania voters backed curtailing Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency powers in a win for Republican lawmakers

Following Gov. Tom Wolf’s March 6, 2020, declaration of a disaster emergency, the legislature attempted to help businesses with liquor licenses by passing Act 21 of 2020, which allowed for the sale of mixed drinks to-go by certain retail licensees.

But in May, Pennsylvania voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to terminate a disaster emergency declaration upon a majority vote of the House and Senate.

“The Pennsylvania House and Senate have already voted to terminate the current disaster emergency declaration. Therefore, now that the vote on the constitutional amendment is certified, the emergency declarations that have been in effect since March 6, 2020, will no longer be valid,” the PLCB said in its statement.

Joe Beckham, owner of three Loco Pez Mexican-themed restaurants, in South Philly, West Philly, and Fishtown, and a fourth restaurant in Port Richmond, said the cocktail-to-go ban is going to be bad for an industry that is still hurting and can’t find enough workers.

“Not being able to sell drinks to go will certainly hurt our revenue. It was popular, and we had done a lot of work with packaging,” he said. “The customers really liked it, I can say that. It was helpful. I really appreciated it,” he said.

“It’s disappointing, probably upsetting would be the word,” said Melissa Bova, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, which has 3,000 members.

“It was a tool for restaurants in Philadelphia for the last 15 months. It’s something that we feel that they still need to have and should have and we’re hoping it will get reinstated,” she said, adding that legislation has been introduced that would do just that.