No, Cuomo Has Not Banned To-Go Cocktails

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How “bars” look in New York these days. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced that the state will tighten service restrictions for bars and restaurants starting immediately — and it sounded, for a minute, like the state might be putting the kibosh on to-go alcoholic drinks.

The initial wording was indeed confusing: As part of the new rules, the governor said establishments would no longer be allowed to offer “walk-up bar service,” and could serve alcohol only if patrons were seated at a table, and only if they’d ordered food. On social media, people worried. What exactly was “walk-up bar service”? It kind of sounded like the end of the takeout cocktail windows, the very thing that’s been helping bars and restaurants stay (marginally) afloat during the shutdown.

Rest assured, that’s not what’s happening. But there are some substantive changes to the city’s drinking protocol. Here’s what you need to know.

Wait, I have to order food now?
Yes. Under existing Alcoholic Beverage Control laws, any establishment serving alcohol already had to make food available. The change now is that they are only allowed to serve alcohol alongside food. (Food has been a requirement for takeout and delivery orders since March.) If you want a drink, you also have to order something edible.

Can I just get chips or something?
It’s unclear. For takeout and delivery, the State Liquor Authority was clear in March that chips were not enough. According to a state spokesperson, details on the new in-person food requirements will be posted on the SLA website, which, as of this writing, has not yet been updated. It seems like a safe bet, though, that bars and restaurants will do their best to come up with ways to ensure you can drink at these establishments.

And I have to sit?
If you’re drinking (and eating) on the premises — which, in New York City, means outdoors — you can’t just amble up to the bar. Either you sit at the table and place your drink order with your server, or you sit at the bar on a stool six feet away from other customers, and you order there.

Why are they doing this now?
The state does not want people to congregate. The goal, the spokesperson said, is to reduce opportunities for patrons to hang around in groups and mingle, as had been happening without the restriction.

Can I still get a cocktail from a takeout window?
You can! Contrary to some initial reports, takeout booze will continue. But there are caveats: You have to get food to go with it — the spokesperson points out that this has technically been the rule since March, although casual observation suggests it is not always enforced — and you’re not allowed to consume it on or near the premises.

In terms of the new landscape of the city, this is the biggest change — the crowds that congregate outside bars on weekend nights should be no more. You can get your drink to go, but then you really have to go. Again, the idea here is to minimize chances for people to interact with each other in ways that may contribute to the possible spread of COVID-19. “We were opening outdoor dining,” the governor said. “We never said we were opening block-party bars.”

And bars are really going to enforce this?
Well, the policies are certainly designed to offer them some new motivation to follow the rules. As part of the state’s new “Three Strikes and You’re Closed” initiative, bars and restaurants that don’t — and get caught — will be shut down on their third violation. Places with “egregious” violations could lose their liquor licenses immediately, and the state will publicly name bars and restaurants not adhering to the guidelines.

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