Over the past few months in Colorado, drinkers have been unpacking bottles of wine from their restaurant to-go bags, or carrying out plastic cups filled with margaritas alongside their tacos, or getting Old Fashioneds delivered right to their doorsteps with dinner.
As one of the rare, crowd-pleasing effects of the age of coronavirus and quarantine, to-go alcohol also has helped to keep restaurants and bars afloat during the 10-week shutdown. Around 87% of Colorado restaurants report making revenue from it, the Colorado Restaurant Association says.
But even as restaurants and bars begin to reopen, state lawmakers are considering extending the takeout alcohol provision for another two years, at least. Senate Bill 20-213 was introduced in the Colorado General Assembly this week, and would allow alcohol takeout and delivery to continue through July 2022.
At that point, the legislation would automatically be repealed, so that lawmakers and the public could decide if alcohol to-go should become the law indefinitely.
“This is changing the law, but it’s doing so temporarily,” said Mike Laszlo, a Colorado-based liquor attorney who represents restaurant and bar clients. Laszlo emphasized that the bill would just continue Gov. Jared Polis’ order and then “repeal itself” at around the two-year mark.
Until then, it would allow restaurants, bars, breweries, distillery pubs and other businesses with various liquor licenses to sell their alcohol for takeout and delivery, as they have been doing since March.
Businesses would be restricted by their to-go container sizes (750ml for wine and spirits and 72 fluid ounces for beer and ciders), and they would also have to keep their gross revenue from food and alcohol takeout and delivery to a maximum 50% of total sales revenue.
Laszlo added that restaurants already need to maintain 25% of their sales from food, “so if they did become (more like) retail liquor stores,” he said, “they could only sell so much. So that’s important to know; there are limitations.”
Chad Michael George, president of the nonprofit EatDenver and board member of the Colorado Bartenders Guild, said he sees this law benefitting a lot of small businesses that have been struggling for the past 2½ months.
“Things aren’t going to be the same for a long time,” he said of restaurant and bar culture, “and every little drop we can contribute to helping restaurants survive is worth fighting for. … Here’s one thing that we can do that can make an immediate impact.”
But the law also would inevitably impact liquor stores, which have seen increased sales during the pandemic.
“I don’t have a problem with the restaurants (offering alcohol takeout and delivery), but if it’s a permanent thing, I would not be happy with it,” said Duey Kratzer, who owns Mondo Vino, a 21-year-old wine shop in Denver’s Highland neighborhood.
Kratzer said his sales have been “like Christmas every day,” but he’s also lost income from around 200 canceled weddings that he would have supplied wine to this season.
“We’re just not a normal liquor store, so I have no idea what our future is going to be,” he said, adding, “I feel so bad for the restaurants because they’re just completely hosed. … The hard part is that most people who would want to support their local beloved restaurant don’t want to spend those prices on wine.”
While restaurants have gotten creative — discounting wines on certain weekdays, creating packs of rosés or other popular styles and pulling hard-to-find bottles out of their cellars — the appeal of buying alcohol from them lies more in their novel presentation and convenience.
Only in places like New Orleans, for example, could you previously walk out of a store carrying a boozy to-go drink. And the logic holds: If you’re already spending money on to-go food, drinks prepared by a professional bartender or else paired by a sommelier can be an obvious bonus.
If the shutdown has shown anything of restaurants and bars, it’s that their owners are sure to get even more creative given any loosened restrictions.
Preparing to open over the weekend for the first time in 10 weeks, Run for the Roses owner Steven Waters this week was installing a “trap door” of sorts to continue offering alcohol takeout in a way that befits his below-ground bar business.
From the street level, customers will be able to approach the small, almost imperceptible vestibule, letting the bar know of their arrival. Then, from a hatch in the basement, a bartender can send the fresh-made drink out. It’s a system that probably wouldn’t have been created without coronavirus as a backdrop. And possibilities like this could be endless.
“If these capacity restrictions are with us for a long time, and even if they’re not but people are just not going out like they used to, (bars and restaurants) could really take advantage of this opportunity to create a lot of cool programming around it,” George with EatDenver and the Bartenders Guild said.
“I want people to let their legislators know that they support this and see what happens.”