Illinois’ bars and restaurants can continue to sell to-go cocktails until 2024 after Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday afternoon signed into a law a three-year extension of a measure adopted last year to give the hospitality industry a new way to make money after COVID-19 halted indoor service.
The sale of to-go cocktails — mixed drinks created by bartenders, rather than packaged goods like beer cans and wine bottles — are far more lucrative to bars and restaurants. Dive bars and fancier cocktail lounges embraced the new revenue stream but worried that lawmakers would not act quickly. The law was set to sunset on Wednesday, June 2. Chicago’s City Council still has to take a corresponding action, but for now, Pritzker’s signature buys some time.
Julia Momose, the owner of Kumiko in West Loop — a bartender who championed the initial push to legalize to-go cocktails — says that she was nervous that Pritzker wouldn’t act in time as he took weeks to sign last year’s bill into law. She says it would have been nice if the governor gave the hospitality industry a head’s up that he intended to support the bill. It would have spared her nerves. She was set to take to-go cocktails offer the menu at Kumiko.
“We usually find out about changes in the law, like COVID restrictions, over the weekend or at midnight on a Friday,” Momose says of how the government communicates with the restaurant industry. “And they expect us to implement it the following day.”
Momose intends to bring back indoor service to Kumiko in August, and though economic conditions aren’t as dire as last year, taking to-go cocktails away from bars and restaurant would have had a negative impact, she says.
Beyond bars and restaurants, several companies, like Blue Blazer, have sprung up during the pandemic that focus on to-go cocktails, and delivery services — such as the Chicago Spirit from Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo of shuttered Logan Square restaurant Fat Rice — have popped up.
This new niche has expanded nationally. So far, 14 states and Washington, D.C. have made to-go cocktails permanently legal during the pandemic: Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Kansas, Arizona, and Nebraska. Illinois is No. 15. At least 15 other states are considering making to-go cocktails legal, according to CNBC.
The Distilled Spirit Council of the United States, a D.C.-based lobby group, issued a statement regarding the Illinois law, attributed to Kristi Brown, the council’s senior director of state government relations:
The pandemic has devastated Illinois’ hospitality businesses, and it will take years for them to fully recover. Cocktails to-go have proven to be a vital part of their survival during COVID-19 and will only provide increased stability in the future. Local restaurants and bars are desperate for a sustained source of revenue, and cocktails to-go provide a critical lifeline for these businesses. We thank the legislature and Governor Pritzker for extending cocktails to-go in support of Illinois’ hospitality businesses.
Additionally, bars and restaurants can now participate in a promotion where they can offer customers one free alcoholic drink with proof of vaccination. It’s a move designed to encourage business and shots.