Following legislative budget agreement talks sounds like a lengthy, and dusty, business that few New Yorkers, except for the wonkiest and those involved, would want to do. The exception, perhaps, was this year’s budget talks… when reinstituting the temporary pandemic-time measure of drinks-to-go was on the table.
Good news in case you weren’t listening in; it passed. And drinks-to-go are now legal in New York for the next three years. For many bars it will be a lifeline or a bonus opportunity. For a few, unfortunately, a burden. But, like with all communities, it was passed in the interest of the greater good. And instituted immediately this spring.
That immediacy was important to New York’s Governor Hochul as she notes, “Our small businesses have well, have been hit so hard by this pandemic. Sadly, many did not return. Small businesses, especially restaurants, just couldn’t hold on during that time. And we hear their voices, especially as I’ve traveled across the state during the pandemic and afterward. Many companies, many small businesses have had to make tough financial decisions just to keep their workers safe under rules that we put in place because the pandemic was not over. And so, we have to keep them alive. They add the personality and the charm to our communities. We have to make sure they keep the doors open… I was a waitress for a long time, five years, and I know how hard it is to hang on. They really bore the brunt of shutdowns and pandemic restrictions.”
Lisa Hawkins, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs at DISCUS commends Governor Hochul and the legislature for reinstating cocktails to-go. She notes the importance of a vibrant and strong hospitality industry that helps boost jobs, tourism and tax revenue for the state.
Hawkins recognizes the importance of this economic lifeline as she says, “Just because New York’s restaurants and bars have reopened, doesn’t mean they have recovered. Hospitality businesses continue to face several challenges. The pandemic continues.”
At Lucky, the bar owned by Abby Ehmann, the return of drinks to-go legislation remains challenging. Her pain points? The substantial food clause that’s part of the legislation and the fines that come with not adhering. For venues like hers, i.e., taverns without a kitchen, offering up a food item to go with the drinks is cost prohibitive and operationally challenging. She’s opted not to offer drinks-to-go for her guests and doesn’t look forward to telling her guests what she expects to have to repeat over and over for the next three years, “No, I can’t give you a drink to go.”
At other establishments drinks to go were a lifeline, though they may take a back seat as the weather warms up again. Mathias Van Leyden spent two solid years putting his restaurant vision into place before he opened the doors of Loulou in Chelsea on February 19th of 2020. And then almost immediately found himself having to reimagine his business plan for the bistro once everything shut down. Cocktails to-go were a saving grace at that point. He shares, “It was a steady revenue stream. It started growing quickly, going from $1,000 a month to almost $5,000 and it helped us stay afloat and keep the doors open.”
Now that restaurants are open again Van Leyden is seeing things a little differently as his guests are not walking in and getting drinks to go, the way they used to when they didn’t feel comfortable going inside. The addition of outdoor seating has also played a big part in his feeling about to-go drinks since capacity for covers jumped from about 60 seats a night to over 120 while the kitchen remained the same size and has to keep up. He notes, “I’d rather people stay and have more drinks than take their one and leave.”
At Holiday in the East Village Creative Director Barbara Sibley just wants her patrons to get Holiday’d wherever they’d like. Sibley feels like that drink a guest takes to go, or orders for delivery at home, had better be just as good an experience as they’d have at the bar. She is committed to consistent standards and says, “If they have that craving and know your bar, they want you to recreate that experience for them for them at home.”
Hawkins sees that. She and her team that lobbied to get 18 states and the District of Columbia to permanently enacted drinks-to-go legislation, with over a dozen more putting temporary measures in place. And they know it was something that consumers wanted as much as the bars did. She comments, “New York consumers really embraced cocktails to-go. At the height of the pandemic, it allowed them to support their local restaurants and bars, while also enjoying a handcrafted cocktail at home. When the pandemic hit, so many people missed being at bars and a being able to pick up a handcrafted cocktail to go was a small way to bring that experience back into their homes.”
Sibley is tapping that desire and spreading her creative wings by staying true to Holiday’s cheeky embrace of nostalgia and building a Happy Meal-like drinks-to-go program that encompasses every single drink on their menu. Count on drinks and sliders coming your way in a dinosaur lunchbox when you order from Holiday. Dinosaurs? In a bar?!
Sibley concludes, “When you have a business challenge it makes you be more creative, and I think this is one of those moments.”
SIPS TO SAVOR
We’re traveling this month to Italy and Greece for the newest items we’ve found to pour into our favorite glass. And while we’re not advocating getting an early morning start on the drinking, we can’t help waking up to say buon giorno and kalimera to Gajardo and Kástra Elión and the families behind them.
Gajardo is a liqueur with deep Italian roots. Produced at Distilleria Schiavo, a fifth-generation Grappa distillery based in a small town near Vicenza, Italy named Costabissara, it is made with the infusion of all natural herbs, roots and spices and crafted in small batches. You’ll find three varieties for your sipping pleasure and cocktail making: Gajardo Bitter Radicale (25% ABV/$45 SRP), Gajardo Fernet Radicale (40% ABV/$45 SRP), and Gajardo Arancia Radicale (40% ABV/$45 SRP).
Three generations have been working behind the scenes tapping Greece’s rich heritage of world-class olives and turning them into vodka. These hand-picked olives are found in the Nafpaktos region of Greece, and they create a flavor profile for this vodka that offers subtle notes of ripe olives refined with peppery undertones before it comes to a soft, buttery finish.