The Illinois General Assembly is considering whether to extend a bill that allows bars and restaurants to serve cocktails to go, and many business owners are hoping that the measure, which proved to be a lifeline amid the COVID pandemic, will be renewed.
The bill passed in June 2020, and was created to help struggling bars and restaurants, forced to close during the pandemic, bring in extra revenue.
“It saved my business. In reality, if we did not get it passed last year, I would have had to close. Go into hibernation. I would have not have been able to hire back staff,” said Julia Momose, who owns Kumiko in the West Loop.
Momose was instrumental in getting the bill passed. She and other restaurant owners formed the “Cocktails for Hope” initiative last summer to advocate for the sale of pre-mixed cocktails to-go in Illinois.
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Attorney Sean O’Leary worked closely with the group and hopes to see the bill become permanent in the future.
“We’re asking citizens out there to go contact your state representatives and senators and make sure this is a priority,” said O’Leary, the President of the O’Leary Law and Policy Group.
"Restaurants are coming out of economic hibernation. Just because people can go back to the restaurants, doesn’t mean restaurants aren’t hurting. We need to give them every tool we can to prosper not only during a difficult time but what’s going to be a difficult recovery," said O'Leary.
Without action at the state level, restaurants and bars may be forced to pivot their business models once again.
Reed’s Local, a neighborhood tavern and music venue in Avondale, has seen a 30% revenue increase since selling their version of adult juice boxes to-go.
“It saved us during the pandemic. That was pretty much the only income we had for about a year,” said Melissa Genova Hill, the co-owner of Reed’s Local.
The bar doesn’t serve food and had to stay closed longer than restaurants.
At Cesar’s on Broadway in Lakeview, to-go margaritas have helped owner, Israel Sanchez, generate a 15% increase in revenue.
“Everything has gone up exponentially, whether it’s labor, cost of goods, everything has gone up,” said Sanchez. “This extra revenue coming in with these margaritas to-go is huge because that balances off all of the extra expense we have.”
Under the law, cocktails must be sealed, labeled and out of reach in vehicles. A valid liquor license is required to sell the beverages and patrons have to be 21 years old to purchase.
“We have proven ourselves to be responsible in serving the alcohol and our customers in the way they are purchasing from us and enjoying their drink safely at home,” said Momose.
Currently, the Illinois House is debating the bill. If passed, it would then go to the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk for his signature. The bill, set to expire June 2, would be extended through the end of 2023 if the measure is approved by the legislature.