In the early days of the pandemic, Washington made an adjustment to its liquor laws, allowing bars and restaurants to serve cocktails and other alcoholic drinks for takeout. Those relaxed rules continue to be enormously popular among patrons and owners, even as some establishments begin opening for dine-in service. In March, the state’s legislature passed a bill to extend the temporary allowances for two more years, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law Wednesday, April 14.
House Bill 1480 lets bars, restaurants, distilleries, wineries, and caterers that carry a liquor license sell alcohol for curbside pickup or delivery, with such permissions set to expire July 1, 2023. That’s a significant amount of time for an extension, particularly since the new takeout rules put in place in May 2020 were not intended to last very long.
According to the original measure put into effect last spring, Washington’s liquor and cannabis board made it legal to sell sealed pre-mixed drinks for takeout and delivery during the duration of the state’s original stay-at-home order. The rules were then amended to last until 30 days after the reopening plan was complete.
Of course, that reopening plan was upended by subsequent COVID surges over the past year and rolling lockdowns. Seattle bars are currently allowed to open for indoor dining at 50 percent capacity and outdoor service, but bar seating itself is still a no go, and it’s unclear when the state will fully reopen. While the new legislative measure gives bars and restaurants a bit more of a cushion to regroup from the pandemic’s impacts, the underlying problems have not gone away. Many longtime drinking dens have closed permanently or temporarily, unable to make ends meet even with more flexibility.
But, given the deliberative pace with which Washington liquor laws typically advance (or don’t advance), the new extension for takeout booze should still be a boost for the hospitality industry. And it could be one more step to making such a move permanent.
“In trying to achieve a balance between public safety and economic resiliency, the bill includes an end date in 2023 of the temporary provisions as well as a study of the impact of the policy,” says state representative Shelley Kloba, who co-sponsored the bill. “By then, the hospitality industry is likely to have bounced back to some extent due to all the pent-up demand, and the study will give legislators the information we would need to make a data-driven decision about continuing to allow these practices.”
UPDATED, 12:01 p.m., April 15, 2021: This piece was updated with info that Inslee has officially signed the bill into law.
- HB 1480 [House Bill Report]
- Even If To-Go Cocktails Stick Around, They May Not Be Enough to Save Seattle Bars [ESEA]