Aldermen advance cocktails-to-go measure — with a twist — amid pleas for more help

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said more than 321,000 restaurant employees have either been laid off or furloughed. Restaurants lost $2 billion in April alone, Toia said, and 20% to 30% will not reopen.

SHARE Aldermen advance cocktails-to-go measure — with a twist — amid pleas for more help
Hand sanitizer is seen between a cocktail and a beer tab at The Instiution bar in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week.

Hand sanitizer next to a cocktail at The Instiution bar in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week. In Chicago, the City Council is inching closer to allowing carry-out cocktails, but the restaurant industry is pleading for even more help after heavy losses during the pandemic.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Cocktails-to-go could be sold in Chicago — but only by bars and restaurants, not liquor stores and only until 9 p.m. — under a mayoral plan advanced Monday amid pleas for even more help for struggling restaurants and bars.

Bar and brewery owners joined the Illinois Restaurant Association in pleading with the City Council’s License Committee to let bars open outdoor patios and allow at least some indoor dining at restaurants before Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said more than 321,000 restaurant employees have either been laid off or furloughed by restaurants that lost a staggering, $2 billion just in April.

“Anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of restaurants will not reopen after this crisis,” Toia said.

“Every regulatory and legislative action being taken to provide relief matters. That’s why we’ve got to get indoor dining open as soon as possible.”

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants, added: “We’ve got to find a way to get these taverns partially open. If I was a tavern owner, I’m not sure I’d bring in help just to” sell cocktails-to-go.

“As far as the restaurants are concerned, there’s a good chance that a third of these places will not reopen post-COVID if we don’t loosen the restrictions. I just want … members of the committee to understand how desperate the situation is. It’s not just restaurants. It’s taverns and airlines and hotels.”

In spite of those pleas, Mayor Lori Lightfoot virtually ruled out authorizing outdoor cafe licenses for bars that don’t sell food.

“Those are high-risk circumstances. People in bars are there to do what you do in bars, which is you drink. When you’re drinking, you don’t have a mask on. You’re gathering in small clusters,” the mayor said.

“We are engaging with the bar and tavern industry on a regular basis to come up with specific guidelines when we’re ready. But we’re not ready yet for those kinds of gatherings.”

The Illinois General Assembly authorized cocktails-to-go to give restaurants another source of income while they remain closed to indoor dining; on-site dining is allowed only in outdoor seating areas. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has already signed the cocktails-to-go bill into law.

Like the state law, Lightfoot’s ordinance authorizes Chicago restaurants and bars to sell cocktails in sealed, tamperproof containers. Any alcoholic beverages transported in a vehicle would have to be placed in the trunk or in an area inaccessible to the driver.

Those picking up the alcohol would be carded. If the employee delivering the cocktail — by curbside pickup or delivery — is unable to safely verify the purchaser is at least 21 years old, the sale would be canceled. The sealed drink would be returned to the retail license holder.

Unlike the state version, the Chicago ordinance would cut off the sale of cocktails-to-go at 9 p.m. to coincide with the citywide cut-off Lightfoot imposed two months ago to prevent large groups from gathering outside liquor stores.

The ordinance advanced by the License Committee also would prohibit third-party delivery services from delivering cocktails and mixed drinks. It would also cut off the sale of on-site consumption at outdoor dining establishments at 11 p.m.

The Chicago version would also require sealed containers have labels or tags showing: the volume of and ingredients in mixed drinks, including the type and name of the alcohol; the name, license number and address of the retail licensee that filled the container and sold the product; and whether the container was filled less than seven days before the sale.

“This ordinance is, no pun intended, a high bar in regards to the way the packaging is, the ingredients, putting it in the back of the car,” Tunney said.

Norman Bogan, owners of Norman’s Bistro, predicted cocktails-to-go would “add $25 to an order,” allowing him to bring more employees back sooner.

Liquor Control Commissioner Shannon Trotter portrayed the Chicago ordinance as a sorely-needed “lifeline” to restaurants and bars while also maintaining the “highest level of health and safety.” The ordinance would automatically sunset on June 2, 2021.

“This ordinance will not rebuild our commercial corridors or fully compensate for three months of closures. However, it ... will provide a much-needed stream of income for restaurants and bars,” Trotter said.

“I believe this ordinance strikes the right balance between supporting businesses during unprecedented times and ensuring responsible implementation.”

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