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Pritzker ready to toast ‘cocktails-to-go’ — but Lightfoot wants a chaser

While Mayor Lori Lightfoot is supportive of the plan, city officials are exploring changes to it. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for June 17, and it’s unlikely a meeting would be called earlier to take up any changes.

Hand sanitizer is seen between a cocktail and a beer tab at The Instiution bar in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week.
Hand sanitizer on the bar next to a cocktail, near the beer taps at The Institution Bar in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday said he’ll sign legislation that will legalize “cocktails-to-go” to aid ailing business owners during the pandemic.

What that will look like in Chicago — a hotspot for COIVD-19 — and when that may happen remains unclear.

While Mayor Lori Lightfoot is supportive of the plan, mayoral aides says they are exploring changes to it. That’s allowed under the legislation, which gives municipalities local control to either opt out or make changes.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for June 17, and it’s unlikely a meeting would be called earlier to take up the plan.

Under the measure — which passed with bipartisan support in both the Illinois House and Senate on Saturday — restaurants and bars would be able 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.

A to-go dinner and cocktail at SpeakEasy Bar & Grill in Newport, Rhode Island, earlier this month.
A to-go dinner and cocktail at SpeakEasy Bar & Grill in Newport, Rhode Island, earlier this month.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Those picking up the alcohol would also be carded. The measure changes the Illinois Liquor Control Act to allow bars and restaurants to sell the cocktails for one year. But many hope that will be extended.

The governor said he is eager to sign it into law.

“I’m so glad that that passed,” Pritzker said during his daily briefing. “And I’ll sign it as soon as it comes to my desk.”

It’s a direct effort to try to help the more than 300,000 people who are unemployed in the hospitality industry right now. Under Pritzker’s reopening plan, bars and restaurants won’t be able to reopen until the fourth phase. The state is set to enter the third phase of reopening on Friday.

That leaves little options for restaurants and bars to make money during the summer when most establishments experience peak business.

“The City is exploring local legislative amendments to the Municipal Code to permit the sales of mixed cocktails to-go for delivery and takeout in Chicago,” Lightfoot spokeswoman Anel Ruiz said in a statement. “We look forward to working with aldermen, industry leaders and other stakeholders in this latest effort to provide a new stream of much-needed revenue for the hundreds of bars, breweries and restaurants across Chicago who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.”

Bill sponsor State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, said he believes Lightfoot could clear up some concerns with a simple ordinance that would limit the number of cocktails-to-go and ensure the beverages won’t be consumed in the public way.

Zalewski said any follow-up issues could also be cleared up during the November veto session.

State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, who sponsored the measure in the Senate, said the mayor and her team are working on folding cocktails-to-go into their plan for sidewalk cafe service. It would be offered up as an option since bars will not reopen immediately.

The city has jurisdiction over “walk-ups,” she said.

The measure is for bars, taverns and restaurants, but not for brew pubs and craft distilleries. That was intended to not blur the lines of three tier-system of producers, wholesalers and retailers.

There are some specifications for the actual mixed drink as well.

“It’s a commercialized standard of pre-packaged, in a rigid container. It can’t have foam in it. It has to be protected. It can’t be tampered with in transport to the house,” Zalewski said during the House debate.

The measure had bipartisan support in both chambers. State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, noted a local chamber of commerce survey found 40% of restaurants in his area “are in the verge of collapse.”

“This is one small step that we can do to help them keep their businesses going,” Wehrli said.

There was even a push for the legislation to become law for longer than a year.

“As long as the packaging is safe, I’m hoping that this body will extend this past the year,” State Rep. Allen Skillikorn, R-Crystal Lake, said. “That seems to be a common sense idea that could really help our restaurants, especially right now. “