Make 'to-go' cocktail sales permanent

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  • Everything is terrible in the time of COVID-19, but one unmitigated positive has emerged: the freedom to buy to-go cocktails.
  • To help bars and restaurants barely clinging to life have a chance of survival, many states have temporarily lifted or relaxed restrictions on selling to-go cocktails or delivering them with meals.
  • New York is now finally repealing its silly “must buy food with booze” requirement. 
  • These bans were always arbitrary and infantilizing. Let us drink how we want. 
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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For those of us cursed to ride out the pandemic in the erstwhile “Greatest City in the World,” just about everything has been terrible for the past year.

There has been one glaring and delightful exception: to-go cocktails.

There are many aspects of life as we know it right now that seemed unfathomable. The newfound freedom to order a margarita to wash down a taco is one of them.

The bans in many states on bars and restaurants selling beer, wine, and spirits to go have always been arbitrary and infantilizing. Now that the coronavirus has left innumerable food- and beverage-based businesses clinging to life, we’re seeing the benefits of this novel method of generating revenue.

And it’s clearly what the customers want. So make it permanent.

New York frees itself from Cuomo’s silly “food with booze” rule

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed a lockdown on all New York businesses deemed nonessential at the start of the pandemic, he ordered the New York State Liquor Authority to revise its guidelines and allow for sales of to-go beer, wine, and spirits.

But a state bureaucracy can’t just go around relinquishing an arbitrary restriction without adding a new one, so the new guidelines said the “sale of each container shall be accompanied by the purchase of food.”

To maintain compliance with this unnecessarily tacked-on requirement on the free exchange of goods and services, some restaurants offered a bag of chips, some have just put a nominal food item on the receipt, while others just gave a nod or a wink before handing over their spicy margaritas in plastic cups.

Once Cuomo got wind of that, he ordered crackdowns, and a number of restaurants lost their liquor licenses, effectively crippling their businesses.

Now more than a full year later, the New York state Senate has released a statement saying: “Food sales will no longer be required for alcoholic beverage sales in bars and restaurants, for on premise or off premise consumption.”

This is an unalloyed good, as any legitimate, tax-revenue-generating business is good business during an era of widespread economic devastation.

Local and state authorities across the US should also take into account how many of the country’s statutes restricting the purchase, sale, and consumption of alcohol by adults are leftovers from the failure that was Prohibition. In some cases (looking at you, Massachusetts), they’re remnants of 18th-century Puritanism.

There’s no law that says outdated laws must always remain, just because. If we don’t need them, we should demand to be rid of them.

A global tragedy is a perfect time to rethink the ways we’ve done things, especially the ones that were accepted by a public that didn’t know some of these things could be undone overnight without a parade of horribles being visited upon society.

There are obviously many more vital changes worth considering in the “new normal,” but that doesn’t preclude the permanent legalization of to-go drinks from being an important one.

Free the ‘walk-tail’

Sadly, Newton’s third law (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) is being demonstrated in one of the US’s most unlikely locales.

While at least 38 states have lifted or loosened restrictions on selling roadie drinks, according to Eater, Louisiana has bizarrely taken the opposite tact.

New Orleans, the home of the drive-thru daiquiri joint and no open-container restrictions, set the American standard for freedom to booze. But the state’s Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control has put New Orleans’ long-standing practice of selling “walk-tails” on ice.

ATC Commissioner Juana Lombard cited “public safety” as the reasoning behind the ban. The commission feared that in New Orleans’ cramped touristy areas, people would congregate outside the establishments, making social distancing impossible. Hence, beer and wine sales are still permitted at restaurants, and the drive-thru daiquiri shops still operate.

But it doesn’t seem as if it would be too hard to enforce a 6-foot-spaced line and bar groups from congregating outside bars and restaurants selling cocktails. And yet just at a time when normality is about the most sought-after commodity, the state has denormalized one of New Orleans’ signature features.

There are conversations worth having about open-container laws, which are often selectively enforced in minority and lower-income communities and lead to a greater chance of criminalization among young people. But that’s a whole different discussion.

For now, we law-abiding adults should make it clear that we’ve gotten a taste of this freedom, and we like it.

It’s a source of revenue. It makes people happy. It hasn’t caused society to collapse.

We the people demand that the freedom to buy overpriced mixed drinks on the fly be made permanent.

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