After weeks of pleas from proprietors, Washington's Liquor Control Board reversed its very firm stance and now allows bars and restaurants to sell individual pre-mixed cocktails as takeout. A previously issued special rule allowed booze sales, but only on bottles still factory sealed, a move that sent local establishments into a creative frenzy of large-scale cocktail kits and innocent mocktails augmented with (factory sealed!) airline-size bottles of gin or tequila. Washington's new (and temporary) guidelines say mixed drinks must be capped securely, sold with food, and delivered into the trunk of a vehicle—or otherwise out of reach of the driver.
Bar owners like Canon's Jaime Boudreau have advocated hard for this, and states like Texas and California enabled to-go cocktails weeks ago. This is undoubtedly great news, both for spots in need of revenue and a shutdown city in perpetual need of a drink. But how big a deal is it coming in the (hopefully) latter stages of our stay home order? As my colleague Allison Williams pointed out on our staff Slack, it's particularly rough coming a day after Cinco de Mayo, an occasion when plenty of people would have shelled out for margaritas.
When I spoke to Sara Rosales and Evan Carter at Lady Jaye about their enterprising cocktail kits, the two co-owners mentioned they get tons of pleas for individual servings of their brown liquor–driven cocktails. According to the Seattle Times, yesterday's news prompted them to run out and buy a bottlecap machine to get that takeaway cocktail program rolling, stat. This new situation might work best for places like Lady Jaye—neighborhood-focused spots with top-level cocktail programs.
Like just about every aspect of Covid-19 times, there are so many factors. The food requirement is a non-starter for Navy Strength and Rob Roy, says owner Chris Elford, because of health risk concerns for particular members of their staff. It's a bigger deal at No Anchor, the third spot he owns with wife Anu Elford, but he points out the individual packaging could make a cocktail cost twice what it normally would. While their spots will stick to large-scale kits, "It's about keeping everyone afloat," says Chris. "We are happy the state is listening."
Erik Hakkinen, whose bar Roquette vaulted into the city's cocktail stratosphere pretty much the moment it opened last summer, predicts these individual drinks could still have a big impact when bars and restaurants are allowed to reopen, since their capacity will be capped at either 25 or 50 percent.
Meanwhile, establishments across the city are brainstorming how to make the most of this development (Rachel Marshall of Rachel's Ginger Beer promises growlers of moscow mules in the near future). So raise a pre-mixed, securely capped glass to another weapon in bars and restaurants' fight to survive.