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Illinois May Allow Bars to Serve Free Booze With Proof of Vaccination

It’s part of a bill that would keep to-go cocktails legal

WASHINGTON, D.C. - MAY 06: Tamaria Kelly, 34, drinks a free bee
Washington, D.C. offered folks free beer with their vaccines.
Photo by Amanda Voisard/for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Illinois House of Representatives pushed through a bill Thursday that would allow bars and restaurants to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations by offering customers a free alcoholic drink if they provide proof they received their needed shots. The measure already passed the Senate in March.

If passed, bars and restaurants could serve customers either a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a beverage with 1.5 ounces of liquor (shots included) if they prove they were vaccinated. The promotion would last a month, from June 10 to July 10, and go from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Workers would validate vaccination by “comparing the vaccination card to a form of valid federal or state identification.” About 41 percent of the Illinois’ population has been vaccinated to date.

Places like Washington, D.C. offered residents free beer at vaccination clinics. Budweiser also had its own free beer promotion. New Jersey and Connecticut have also offered free drinks with vaccine proof.

The bill has a few components and one is time sensitive: keeping to-go cocktails legal. Selling to-go cocktails would revert to illegal status on Wednesday, June 2 unless the state approves an extension. There doesn’t appear to be major hurdles from that happening as the House approved extending the legality of to-go cocktails through 2024. Still, bar owners worry Gov. J.B. Pritzker won’t have a chance to sign the bill into law by the expiration date.

Illinois would join a batch of states that have made to-go cocktails legal presumably after the pandemic. California, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas have taken measures to make sales permanently legal.

Last year, Chicago bar owners struggled as they pled with state and local lawmakers to legalize to-go cocktails. Though bars were particularly affected by COVID-19, with health experts telling the public to avoid pubs and taverns, retailers deployed lobbyists to fight the effort, delaying legalization until June. By that time, liquor stores were enjoying one of their biggest sales years in history.

Some bars were selling to-go cocktails before legalization, but Julia Momose, the co-owner at Kumiko in West Loop, reasoned that taverns in high-profile areas would be more susceptible to fines they couldn’t afford during the pandemic. She helped created Cocktails for Hope, a campaign that included advertising executive Ian Beacraft.

“We really excited about it,” Beacraft says. “It’s basically a copy/paste of what exists right now, which is awesome.”

Lawmakers considered to-go cocktails a temporary fix in 2020, something to give bars a little extra income as they struggled for survival during the pandemic. But Springfield had little control to what would happen next: To-go cocktails were a hit and bar owners in Chicago and across the state have plans to make them fixtures in their business models.

To-go cocktails saved the Long Room, a neighborhood bar with mixed drinks and craft beer in Irving Park. Though capacity limits have eased, owner Jason Burrell has kept his tavern closed to on-site customers, but has continued to offer beverages for carryout. The bar is literally a long and narrow room with only about eight feet of width between the bar and the opposite wall; there wasn’t much space the requisite six feet of social distancing.

Burrell says to-go cocktails will be a part of their business going forward. He envisions selling customizable drinks for birthdays, or offering bottles to brunch customers who need something to bring with them to a party later that evening.

Chicago’s City Council would also have to approve an extension, and that process started Wednesday when Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced a draft ordinance to do that. However, council members were caught off guard by the 94-page ordinance, as it included many additional components, from legalizing sidewalk “A”-frame signs, to forcing liquor stores to stop alcohol at 10 p.m. The measure was blocked and will be revived at June’s council meeting.

  • Bill Status of SB0104 [Illinois General Assembly]
  • DC Offers Free Beer at Kennedy Center for Getting Vaccine [NBC Washington]
  • New Jersey to give free beer to Covid vaccine recipients [CNBC]
  • Vaccinated Individuals Will Be Able to Get a Free Drink at Certain Restaurants [NBC Connecticut]
  • Beer Brands Offer Free Drinks for Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine [Food & Wine]
  • More mass vaccination sites shutting down as COVID-19 positivity rate dips below 2% for first time ever [Sun-Times]
  • To-Go Alcohol Is Now Officially Legal in Texas, Permanently [Eater Austin]
  • To-Go Cocktails Could Be Here to Stay — Just Not From Your Favorite Dive Bar [Eater SF]
  • To-Go Alcohol Sales Are Now a Permanent Thing in Florida [Eater Miami]
  • To-Go Cocktails From Georgia Restaurants Get the Governor’s Seal of Approval [Eater Atlanta]
  • Cocktails To Go Are Now Legal in Pennsylvania [Eater Philly]

The Long Room

120 West 44th Street, Manhattan, NY 10036 (212) 997-3933 Visit Website

Kumiko

630 West Lake Street, , IL 60661 (312) 285-2912 Visit Website

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