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Not to everyone's taste: Opinions mixed on return of go-to drinks

A female bartender, wearing a black face mask, mixes a drink at a bar.
Karen Dewitt
WBFO Albany Correspondent

The proposed resumption of to-go drinks at restaurants and bars — which Gov. Kathy Hochul suggested last week in her State of the State address — was greeted with some enthusiasm, although pub owners noted questions remain.

The governor said Wednesday during her first State of the State address that she plans to introduce legislation to permanently allow the sale of to-go drinks for off-premises consumption to support the recovery of bars and restaurants from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her first state of the state address, Hochul said it would help small businesses struggling with unprecedented challenges amid surging cases of the virus.

"New York's comeback depends on the recovery and success of our small businesses," Hochul said, "New York is here with a simple message: help is on the way."

"We did it before. And the shutdown happened. It really helped us out in terms of the businesses," said Bethany Taylor, one of the managers of Brix on Main Street in Cortland.

In March 2020, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed restaurants and bars to sell alcohol to-go in response to the pandemic. That lasted three months.

"I really appreciate if they allow us to do to-go drinks; I think it will continue to help us," Taylor said. "And it will be beneficial to local businesses."

She also said that she didn't expect a huge increase in sales. "But the community really came together and helped the businesses out, especially Brix," Taylor said.

While Brix strongly supported the practice, the Stone Lounge seemed hesitant.

"Obviously I'd have to look into it and do some research on it, talk to my lawyer and find out what kind of legal liability there is or something like that," said owner Camron Fuller. "If everything is good, there is a possibility."

Fuller's concerns centered on two main areas. On one hand, he wondered if any additional conditions will be attached to the move, such as the need for particular containers.

"Maintaining the supply chain of the particular type of container may add cost," he said.

On the other hand, he is worried about the potential liability.

"If somebody walks out on the street and starts to drink it, the restaurant and bars can get in trouble for that," Fuller said. "Or they get the drinks and put it in their car and drive it home while drinking it. There is a possibility of businesses getting in trouble."

Bob Haight, Cortland Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, applauded the move.

"It could be a life-saver for some bars and restaurants who struggle for a lack of business," he said. "Our restaurants have proven that they can manage that. And their patrons can manage that."

Apart from the sales, he said the move may help in other ways.

"Of course, it helps the restaurant. But it's very good mental mindset of the community members," Haight said. "We are all going through the COVID-19. We are all sick of it. So give yourself a break – order from that restaurant, take that food home, and eat it safely. If you are responsible, go ahead and get a cocktail with it. I think it's a wonderful piece of it, too."

The move raised both appreciation and concerns among people.

"I'm for it," Christin Casterline said, sipping a beverage at Brix with her friend. "Sometimes you just wanna stay home and enjoy. So you don't have to drive."

A couple of tables away, Matthew Kuparinen echoed her. "Why am I in favor of it? You know, we are all adults," he said. "We don't need someone else to tell us 'we can do this' or 'we cannot do that.'"

“I don’t think it’s right,” Lynne Fitzpatrick said a couple days later, drinking a beer with her husband at the counter. “I think people will take the drink in their cars and probably drink it in their cars.”

“That’s beneficial to businesses as they need help and we don’t have problems with that part,” said her husband, Jim Fitzpatrick. “I just hope people can consider what they are doing and be responsible.”