Mixed drink

HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf has signed a cocktail-to-go bill into law that, starting today, will allow customers to buy mixed drinks in bars for takeout.

The Liquor Control Board issued guidance shortly afterward warning Pennsylvanians about traveling in vehicles with alcoholic beverages.

 “Open containers may only be transported in a vehicle’s trunk or some other area of the vehicle not occupied by the driver or passengers,” that guidance stressed.

“This new temporary rule creates more business for bars and restaurants when they need it, helps to meet customer demand and supports social distancing,” Wolf said.

The move comes as the state has been easing social-distancing restrictions. Wolf indicated Thursday he is likely to relax the restrictions in even more counties today.

Most businesses are allowed to reopen in counties in the yellow phase of the state’s reopening strategy -- but restaurants are limited to takeout; gyms, barber shops and beauty salons are closed; and gatherings over 25 people are banned.

Wolf added Thursday that it’s possible the state could announce that he may announce plans to begin moving some of the 37 counties already in the yellow phase of the state’s reopening strategy into the green phase.

“We’re making decisions based on the best information we have, and making the best decisions we can, based on the best models that are always changing,” Wolf told reporters Thursday afternoon. “I’ll be announcing a whole range of counties tomorrow moving from red to yellow and the hope is that we’ll also be making some counties that might even be moving from yellow to green.”

The cocktail-to-go law applies to bars, restaurants and hotels that have lost 25 percent of average monthly total sales during the COVID-19 emergency.

Restaurant industry groups welcomed the state’s move to allow cocktails-to-go as a way to provide a desperately needed opportunity to resume at least a portion of their businesses.

“Small business taverns and licensed restaurants put their establishments on the line to help flatten the COVID-19 curve and save lives,” said Charles Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverages and Tavern Association. “They were the tip of the spear in this battle, and one of the first businesses to either close or limit services to protect their communities. For more than two months, they have been deprived of full business operations, causing significant financial concern.”

Melissa Bova, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, called the new law “a huge win” for the restaurant industry.

“Throughout PA alone, there has been a significant revenue loss, with restaurants reporting nearly an 82 percent decline in sales since the beginning of the shutdown,” she said. “By relaxing laws in order to sell cocktails to go, many restaurants will be given a fighting chance to survive this disruption.”

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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