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Spokane City Council asks state to allow curbside cocktails during coronavirus shutdown

Some members of the Spokane City Council asked the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to temporarily allow restaurants to sell cocktails to go. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Some members of the Spokane City Council asked the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to temporarily allow restaurants to sell cocktails to go. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

A Moscow mule on a Spokane curbside?

Multiple members of the Spokane City Council signed a letter last week asking the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to temporarily allow restaurants to sell cocktails as part of their pickup and delivery meal service.

The liquor board already had relaxed its regulations last month in response to the social distancing requirements under Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

Now, restaurants can temporarily include growlers, kegs or sealed bottles of beer for curbside pickup or delivery customers, as well as bottles of wine.

Those with a license to sell liquor can do so, but only in a factory-sealed bottle. Mixed drinks were excluded from the list of allowable alcoholic beverages.

The council voted only to sign the letter, which was drafted by Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, not adopt it as a formal resolution.

Kinnear said she was approached about the issue by Tobby Hatley, local government affairs coordinator for the Spokane Chapter of the Washington Hospitality Association. She quickly endorsed the idea of a letter to the state liquor board.

The Washington Hospitality Association has encouraged its members’ advocacy efforts to have cocktails included in the new, temporary regulations. In an April 2 letter to the liquor board, several members – including prominent Spokane restaurateurs – argued that “during this current mandate, people are confined to their homes; there is little risk of binge drinking or public intoxication resulting from cocktails to-go.”

“Anyone on the road is required to prove their essential reasoning for leaving home, so there is also a lesser risk of alcohol-related vehicular incidents,” the letter states.

Other states, including Idaho, are allowing to-go cocktails.

Chef Adam Hegsted, owner of Eat Good Group, was one of several local restaurant owners to sign the letter. In Washington, his restaurants aren’t allowed to sell to-go cocktails, but Honey Eatery and Social Club in Coeur d’Alene does.

“We’re just looking to allow pre-made cocktails in a sealed container, similar to what we do in Idaho,” Hegsted said.

Demand for cocktails isn’t what it would be inside the restaurant, but Hegsted said “every little bit helps” as business takes a substantial hit during the COVID-19 stay-home orders.

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the liquor board, noted that licensed restaurants are allowed to sell cocktail “kits” – a jar of nonalcoholic ingredients and a factory-sealed bottle of alcohol that the customer would mix.

The liquor board weighed “the public safety risk of providing an easy opportunity for drivers to drink cocktails on their way home” and the convenience of allowing the sale of ready-made cocktails, Smith said.

Councilwoman Kate Burke was the lone member to vote against the letter, citing her personal struggles with alcoholism. While she acknowledged that businesses are struggling and make money from alcohol sales, she noted that “there’s also a lot of people who are struggling to stay sober during this time.”

“I already think we’re surrounded by alcohol enough through stores and everywhere. … I can’t support this with what I’ve gone through and what my colleagues, my friends have gone through,” Burke said.

Councilwoman Candace Mumm voiced appreciation for Burke’s perspective, but supported the letter as long as it made clear the cocktail sales would be allowed only during the shutdown.

To further ease the burdens on local businesses caused by COVID-19, Kinnear will look to make temporary adjustments to city laws regarding how restaurants expand seating into nearby sidewalks or parking lots.

“You have to go through all those hoops. I was the original sponsor of that ordinance, so I want to see how we could simplify it,” Kinnear said. “I want it to just be, ‘Fill this this out, you’re good to go.’ ”

When they’re allowed to reopen, restaurants may be forced to increase the distance between tables, Kinnear said. Reducing regulatory hurdles to spreading out into sidewalks and parking lots would benefit them, she said.

“Whatever we can do to help get people back on their feet as quickly as possible, I think we should do,” Kinnear said.

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