The era of the "walktail"-- ordering a cocktail or mixed drink to-go at a bar or restaurant — is over on Long Island.
On Thursday, the state’s liquor authority forced restaurants and bars into another quick pivot when they announced, via a tweet, that to-go alcohol sales would come to an end the next day. "Licensees please be advised that with the ending of our state of emergency and the return to pre-pandemic guidelines, the temporary pandemic-related privileges for to-go and delivery of alcoholic beverages will end after June 24," the tweet read. Beer-to-go sales are still permitted, as it was pre-pandemic, according to an SLA spokesman.
To-go booze sales had been part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order of March 6, 2020 that declared an emergency; with time, it helped ease the financial shock that COVID restrictions had on the restaurant and bar industry. Some establishments invested in renovations or new equipment to sell beer, wine and mixed drinks to go, among them Dave Striffler, the owner of Brew Cheese in Northport.
"I wasn’t prepared and I’m pretty disappointed," said Striffler, who last summer converted a window counter into a takeout window that had done a brisk to-go business in beer, cider and wine. "I think it really helped local business during the pandemic. I certainly benefited, and I’m sure other places did as well."
A bill introduced in the recent New York state legislative session to extend the practice didn’t become law before the session ended on June 10. Fifteen states have made COVID-19 era cocktails to-go permanent and 11 others have extended to-go alcohol sales through legislation as of June 22, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.In May, the New York State Restaurant Association released the results of a poll that indicated 78% of New Yorkers would support allowing to-go alcohol sales to continue. But the legislation was opposed by liquor store lobbyists.
In Lindenhurst, the Mexican restaurant Hermanas Kitchen & Cocktails opened two months before COVID forced a shutdown of indoor dining. Like many businesses, owners Sara Pesserillo, Lauren Nash and Kristen Lapof turned to takeout to salvage their revenue, including to-go drinks.
"We kind of had a feeling this might happen, but we’re disappointed because it seemed to be working. It didn’t seem like it caused a problem and it was an extra boost for us," said Pesserillo. Though the restaurant didn’t make a significant investment in bottling or canning equipment, they were left with lots of the cups and jugs they had used to package up beverages. "If people didn’t feel comfortable coming out to a restaurant, it gave them a chance to experience our drinks in their home. It was a neat thing for people and it doesn’t make sense that they took it away."
When Radhika Copra launched her Garden City ghost kitchen, Jeera, this spring, she decided to offer canned cocktails alongside the Indian-influenced bowls and snacks. "I expected [cocktails] to be a slow rollout, but it quickly became popular," she said of the Moscow Mules and Palomas customers could buy with their smashed paneer wraps. She said she was "shocked" by how quickly the measure was revoked. "It certainly doesn’t help us from a revenue standpoint and it’s sad to have it go away."
Doug Brickel, who owns Cork & Kerry cocktail bars in Floral Park and Rockville Centre said to-go cocktails, some of which the bars bottled, had helped the business "make up a percentage of our sales, and cut into the lost revenue via fewer seats." Both bars are now left with a stock of bottles, cups and tops.
"It feels like having the rug pulled out from under us.," he added.