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To-go drinks should come back so I don’t have to wait for a seat at the bar

More people should be talking about this.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako

Late Friday afternoon and early evening should be the most wonderful time in a girl’s life, full of plans and possibilities for the weekend to follow. But last Friday, even as I was enjoying the fruits of Daylight Saving while getting ready to go out, that buzzy anticipation turned to apprehension. 

I already had dinner reservations, which I’ve come to accept as a new NYC dining necessity, but what about after? The restaurant was in the East Village, a neighborhood teeming with bars and thus the people who love them. Starting a new life at the guaranteed four-top, never having to find another table or bar seat evermore, would not be an option—the avocado bills alone would ruin me—and if, by my estimate, we’d be walking out of the place around about 10:30pm, right when a more recent vintage of going-out drinkers were likely getting started, we probably wouldn’t easily find comfortable accommodations. It struck me that one thing would solve this problem: the reintroduction of to-go cocktails. 

Yes, to-go drinks should come back so I don’t have to wait for a seat at the bar. 

What began as a glimmer of a silver lining during the pre-vaccine pandemic, to-go cocktails were permitted in New York state by executive order in March of 2020. It actually happened pretty fast, in retrospect, and bars were allowed to sell drinks to go with the purchase of food, which produced some hilarious takes on the mandate. (Who could forget all those mandatory granola bars?) For a moment, it seemed like city and state authorities might actually make it a little less difficult to operate a hospitality business in the long term. 

That is not what happened. The prudent legislation was snatched away in June of 2021. Now, we are back to an antiquated system where, in order to enjoy an alcoholic drink prepared by someone else in exchange for money paid to the licensed establishment in which the drink is made, said beverage must, once again, be consumed on site. With the expectation of a true ‘hot vax’ summer ahead of us, that last requirement is a barrier to entry that threatens to render the whole endeavor practically impossible. 

Dinner was terrific. We sat near the bar, which, to my point, was packed. We got corn dogs and martinis and some other stuff and stayed a little long. Then, as I'm want to do, I suggested that we get a nightcap elsewhere since “there are a million places around here.” I made this promise even though I'd already written the top half of this article just hours earlier. 

The first bar we tried, a dive-adjacent old favorite, had an unexpected cover that the situation didn’t quite yet seem critical enough to merit. We passed crowded space after space, lacing through the sidewalk throngs, as I unwisely led us to a confirmed popular, famous even, speakeasy concept. They’d reached the point where they were no longer even taking names. We literally squeezed in somewhere eventually, but this whole embarrassing episode could have been avoided, were to-go cocktails legal, so that I don’t have to wait for a seat at the bar. We didn’t even end up with seats at the ultimate destination! So I am yelling this rhetorically!! 

To be fair, even in those brief, golden months when to-go cocktails were sanctioned, it was still illegal to imbibe outdoors. So we still, unfairly, would not have been able to simply stroll with our portable potables, were they allowed last weekend, as Governor Kathy Hochul has asserted that they might someday be once more. But, being that my dinner friends and I had chosen a restaurant location between our separate homes, we could have ordered drinks to-go, gotten back to any one of our domiciles, and gotten back to chatting in the time it took between signing the check and finding that last, seatless spot. By the end of the night at least one of us would have been happier than even the best evening out with pals can leave a person, having reduced their commute back by 100%. The return of drinks to go so I don’t have to wait for a seat at the bar would bring joy to people in this sometimes unkind world. 

I am aware that one can simply make, pour, or even just pop open drinks at home. I have a full complement of spirits at mine. I have worked as a bartender. But nobody wants to slow the going-out momentum and the exhilaration one feels when experts in the field of food drink are providing provisions. Plus, making drinks at home is not the way to stimulate the economy! 

This is a dining and drinking out town, and the industry is still working to recover from the past two years. 

Thousands of bars and restaurants, the souls of our neighborhoods, have had to close," Hochul said in January at a state of the state address where she detailed a $10 billion small business recovery plan. "We're also going to do something bars and restaurants have been asking for: To once again allow the sale of to-go drinks—a critical revenue stream during the lean times last year."

Simply turning that critical revenue stream back on seems like a pretty light ask, given the obvious quickness and seemingly relative ease it was done with back in even less certain times. And three months after the proposal, I’m still hopeful that it’ll happen. Questions about to-go drinks' present status were not answered by the governor's office. (Questions about whether I should have to wait for a seat at the bar were not asked.)

I guess I’ll just file down my high heels in the meantime. 

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