Restaurants are on the verge of regaining the right to serve cocktails and other alcoholic beverages with to-go orders in New York, at least for the next few years.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders are nearing agreement on a measure to allow cocktails to go as part of the state budget, which has not yet been approved despite the state’s fiscal year beginning six days ago.
The measure offers a glimpse into what is now a delayed state budget that was to take effect on April 1.
The measure, however, wouldn’t be permanent. The latest negotiations have focused on a plan to allow to-go drinks for three years, but only when customers also order food, according to lawmakers and lobbyists briefed on the plan. Restaurants would also be prohibited from selling full bottles, which liquor stores had flagged as a major concern.
Speaking to reporters at the state Capitol late Tuesday, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Democrat representing Queens, said an alcohol-to-go agreement was “close.” He confirmed it would be a temporary extension, requiring lawmakers to revisit the issue in the coming years.
“It would be for several years, but not permanent,” he said. “I don’t believe anyone is talking about making it permanent.”
Gianaris also confirmed the emerging agreement would require a food purchase to get a takeout drink, though it’s not unclear whether a small appetizer or something similar in size would satisfy the requirement.
His comments came a day after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat representing the Bronx, confirmed they were progressing toward a deal on alcohol-to-go.
“Yeah, it’s something that’s very much on the table,” he said Monday.
Restaurants and bar owners have spent much of the past year lobbying for a permanent return of cocktails to go, which were allowed for 15 months in the early days of the COVID pandemic and proved to be popular with customers.
Hochul was their biggest ally, including a measure to permanently legalize to-go drinks in her budget proposal she announced in January. But lawmakers were initially hesitant to back the cause amid pushback from the liquor-store lobby who feared it would encroach on their business, as well as some officials who raised concern about open containers and drunk driving.
Neither the Senate nor the Assembly included the measure in their separate budget proposals last month. At the time, Assembly Democrats said they wanted to send a message by removing policy issues that have little to do with the state’s finances.
With lawmakers nearing agreement on cocktails to go, lawmakers say liquor stores are also expected to win some level of concessions. One measure under discussion has been allowing liquor stores to open on Christmas Day, which has long been prohibited by the state’s prohibition-era alcoholic beverage control law.
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Package Store Association, the lobbying organization for New York City liquor stores, declined to comment Wednesday until the agreement was finalized.
Hochul and legislative leaders continued to negotiate toward a broader budget agreement that could exceed the $216 billion plan the Democratic governor first put forward in January.
It was due by the April 1 start of the state’s fiscal year, but so far the sides haven’t been able to reach consensus on thorny issues like fast-tracking New York City casinos and expanding Kendra’s Law, a state law that allows courts to order people with mental illness into assisted outpatient treatment.
On Monday, lawmakers approved a short-term extender that ensured state workers got paid this week as Hochul and lawmakers continued to negotiate.