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Inslee Signs Bill That Waives Liquor License Fees for Restaurants, Breweries, and Wineries

But status of takeout cocktails as a more permanent fixture remains unclear

From left to right: a pint of beer, a glass of wine, a mojito, a Manhattan with an orange peel garnish, and a flaming shot of brown liquor are all lined up next to each other on a bar.
Per a new bill, restaurants won’t have to pay a fee for their liquor license in 2021.

There was some good news for the hospitality industry over the weekend. Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a bill that would waive one-time annual liquor license fees for restaurants, breweries, wineries, and certain other venues for a full year. The cost of those licenses can range from $100 (for bottle shops) all the way up to $2,200 for restaurants that serve booze, and the waivers will go into effect in April.

This spring will also mark another alcohol-related milestone for Washington. A year ago in May, the state’s liquor and cannabis board (LCB) finally made it legal to sell sealed mixed drinks for takeout and delivery during the duration of the state’s stay-at-home order. Even after the first stay-at-home was lifted, all restaurants that have a spirits, beer, and wine license could still sell cocktails to go, as long as they are served with a “full meal” (as defined here) and in certain types of sealed containers (no cheap styrofoam cups). And the rule has remained in effect in 2021.

But, with restaurants allowed to open for indoor dining at 25 percent in the state’s newest reopening plan, it’s worth wondering what will happen to the takeout booze rule. As it stands now, there are no immediate plans to roll it back. A spokesperson for the LCB tells Eater Seattle that “nothing is on the table for termination while restaurants, bars, etc. are restricted due to COVID,” and the governor’s office echoed that sentiment, saying that “any conversation about permanent to-go cocktail allowances is probably best reserved for once the emergency is finally over.”

That time, hopefully, will come sooner rather than later. The initially slow vaccination effort is ramping up across the state, and COVID cases have declined enough to the point that Inslee felt comfortable pausing any renewed dining restrictions for at least a couple of more weeks. If progress continues, the push for making to-go cocktails permanent will likely emerge once again, especially if more and more restaurants acquire liquor licenses thanks to the new “no fee” rule in 2021. It’s still unclear whether such a policy would be enough to save many bars in Seattle, but the conversation can’t be avoided indefinitely.