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NY restaurants and bars seek extended alcohol to-go rule

Karen DeWitt
Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, joins other lawmakers and restaurant owners to push for a two-year extension of an alcohol to-go rule

State lawmakers, along with restaurant owners and their workers, are pressing for a two-year extension of takeout alcoholic beverages. They said the practice -- authorized at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic -- has allowed the businesses to keep their doors open and avoid some layoffs.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in one of hundreds of executive orders issued in 2020, allowed alcoholic drinks to be ordered and delivered along with takeout food. 

Restaurants, financially devastated by months-long indoor dining bans to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, say the rule helped some of them turn enough profit to keep from closing temporarily or permanently.  

Cuomo has been extending the order every 14 days or so.

Jason Pierce, owner of the Savoy Taproom in Albany, is one of many owners who want legislators to pass a measure that would give more certainty about a service that he said customers want. 

“They want to get a beautiful entrée, they want to take some cocktails home with them, and they want to share the experience they’ve enjoyed here in our restaurant in the comfort of their own home,” Pierce said. “The whole concept that we should simply every two weeks try to extend their right to do that is absurd." 

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, a Democrat from Albany, is sponsoring a bill that would extend the alcohol takeout limits for two years. Fahy said on-premise alcohol sales at restaurants and bars in New York are down 44% over the past year because of the lockdowns and seating restrictions.

She said restaurants need the alternative way to offer drinks to customers.  

“We think it’s only fair that we extend the alcohol to-go provisions,” said Fahy. “It’s important to do some of this post-pandemic. We still don’t know when post-pandemic will be.” 

Fahy and the restaurant owners said less than half of the state’s population has been vaccinated, leaving many wary of indoor dining. And they said it may be some time before even those who are protected through immunizations feel comfortable eating inside again.  

Dominick Purnomo, co-owner of Yono’s restaurant in Albany, said a majority of restaurant patrons want the to-go service.

“This bill has an 83% favorability,” Purnomo said. “Find me something else that 83% of people can agree on in the divisiveness that we have in today's world.”  

There is opposition from the state’s liquor distributors and retailers. But bill supporters say liquor stores -- which were deemed essential businesses early in the pandemic -- never had to close their doors and have seen their profits increase by double digits in the past year. 

The restaurant and bar owners got some good news about another executive order issued by Cuomo. The governor said he is lifting an 11 p.m. mandatory closing time that they said has hurt their businesses. 

“We’re going to extend the 11 p.m. curfew for food and beverage to midnight,” said Cuomo. “For catered events, it will go from midnight to 1 a.m."

The changes go into effect Monday.  

Cuomo said he’s extending the hours because infection rates are declining.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.