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Kumiko’s Star Bartender Pushes Illinois to Legalize Cocktails To Go

Mixed drinks aren’t legal for delivery or carryout in Chicago

A highball glass filled with a cocktail.
Kumiko’s cocktails are not available to go.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

A petition has began circulating urging Governor Pritzker to allow bars and restaurants in Illinois to serve cocktails to-go, in an effort to help bring in revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. While bars and restaurants are permitted to sell cocktail kits, providing ingredients and alcohol for customers to mix at home, pre-mixed drinks aren’t permitted in Chicago — though some bars around the city have ignored the law.

This has created an uneven playing ground for bars who don’t want to risk fines. Julia Momose, the bartender and partner at Kumiko in West Loop and an Eater Young Gun alum, started the petition. “We need the State of Illinois to allow bars and restaurants with on-premise licenses to sell their carefully crafted cocktails as a way to increase revenue during these trying times,” the petition reads. As of publish time, the petition has nearly 1,000 signatures.

Momose said a change in the law will make it better for her and her staff: “The margins are better on mixed drinks. Many smaller bars don’t have enough inventory on hand right now to sell full bottles of spirits, or enough mixers to make it worthwhile without spending more money,” she wrote to Eater Chicago.

While acknowledging the state has opened up its laws to allow bars and restaurants to sell sealed bottles of beer and wine, plus allowing breweries to offer delivery of growlers, cocktail bars like Kumiko, a lauded bar that offers omakase cocktail flights, say they are hurt by the restrictions because their business doesn’t focus on beer or wine.

The state liquor commission put out a primer on alcohol delivery on March 19. The commission mandated alcohol for delivery needed to be in its in original container and couldn’t be pre-mixed cocktails like margaritas or sangrias. Beer growlers and crowlers are exempt.

Again allowing for the sale of mixed beverages, as the petition pushes for, is different from the cocktail kits that bars like Violet Hour, Aviary (via Alinea), and others have sold in recent weeks. Kumiko and sibling Kikko (which serves food) have teased a takeout option.

“Yes, we can get creative — we are creative. Yes, we can make delicious batches for customers to spike on their own — we get it,” Momose wrote. “But I am asking for something better. There are businesses on the verge of losing everything and shutting down permanently. Now is not the time to roll over and accept what is happening. It is the time to fight for better opportunities.”

Illinois changing it laws has precedence elsewhere: Last week, California loosened its laws to allow cocktails to-go with conditions. The orders must include food, and the drinks must come in a container with a secure lid or cap.

Still, the current state law has caused confusion for some bar and restaurant owners. Others, without using social media, have sold cocktails to customers served in plastic cups with lids despite the fact that City of Chicago spokesperson Isaac Reichman confirmed cocktails can’t be offered to go or for delivery (and an Illinois Restaurant Association spokesperson backed that interpretation). When it comes to cocktail carryouts, many corner bars could go undetected, but it’s different for bars like Kumiko, in a high-profile West Loop location.

And because local officials have control of liquor sales, some bars are already able to take advantage of the new revenue. For example, Common Good Cocktail House in suburban Glen Ellyn is selling cocktails to go with the approval of village officials.

It would be beneficial for elected officials to support their businesses with public declarations in this dire time. In the end, Momose is looking for support as the coronavirus outbreak has many restaurants and bar owners wondering about their futures. She’s asking supporters to draft letters to the governor, and the Illinois Liquor Control Commission’s Cynthia Berg and Chimaobi Enyia.


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