Local restaurants and bars react to the possible legalization of public drinking in designated commercial areas and alcohol delivery services.
The bar and restaurant industry across America has taken a hard hit due to pandemic restrictions during the past year, and D.C. and Maryland legislators have proposed solutions to lessen the blow.
In late January, Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced the Reopen Washington DC Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration Amendment Act of 2021 – legislation that would allow public drinking in designated commercial spaces. This bill takes guidance from Northern Virginia, as the area has offered specialized commercial lifestyle licenses for years and legalized public drinking last October in two Arlington locations: Shirlington Village and Pentagon Row.
Mayor Bowser urged the Council of the District of Columbia to pass the bill in a press release published on March 3. She noted that 89% of local businesses operating a streatery overwhelmingly support the bill, according to two public surveys conducted by the District Department of Transportation and DC Office of Planning.
Putting this act into law would expand the District’s streatery program, which was enacted in June 2020 to expand outdoor dining within public space including sidewalks, parking lanes, alleys and public plazas. As of January 2021, 304 streatery permits have been issued within the District, according to the same press release.
“Our local business community has been resilient, but we know that to get through this pandemic and ultimately recover, we will also need to seize this opportunity to be bold and innovative,” said Mayor Bowser in the press release. “The streatery program has been one example of a lifeline that helped businesses operate safely, stay afloat [and] keep their employees on the payroll. We look forward to working with the Council to extend the streatery program, even after the public health emergency ends.”
The proposed provisions listed in the Reopen Washington act include establishing a commercial lifestyle license that allows patrons to walk around and consume alcohol purchased from on-premise establishments within predefined boundaries.
Todd Thrasher, founder of rum bar Tiki TNT, says he’s envisioned people relaxing outside at The Wharf with one of Tiki’s specialty cocktails in hand for years.
“I envisioned a front bar area, so people could get something to go and walk around The Wharf,” he says. “For us, it will alleviate some issues with business.”
Since the pandemic hit, Tiki TNT’s dining space has reduced by nearly 75%, according to Thrasher, who adds that his 2020 profits are down by 85% compared to the previous year. His main focus is simply keeping the doors open.
“I wish [the legislation process] would happen faster,” he says. “If we could have another stream of revenue, that would be great for business. Where we’re located, people can grab a beer or a cocktail and sit down outside.”
In addition to The Wharf, other commercial areas in D.C. that may qualify for a public drinking license include the Georgetown waterfront and CityCenterDC.
Serving as inspiration to the execution of public drinking in commercial areas are a few select locations in Northern Virginia, where enjoying beer and cocktails on the go is already allowed.
Scott Shaw, a partner at Alexandria Restaurant Partners (ARP), says Shirlington is the perfect guide for the District to follow.
“If D.C.’s wondering what it might look like, here’s an example of how it got rolled out, what problems there were and how it was handled,” he says.
Shaw notes that while open-air drinking and takeout cocktails have boosted some sales for Palette 22, one of ARP’s members, it has particularly helped bring business back to Shirlington.
“The big impact is that it’s a boost for Shirlington Village and makes it more of a destination. We’d like to see it adopted elsewhere, so I’m glad Shirlington did it and proved that it could be executed and well-controlled.”
Businesses and municipalities can apply for commercial lifestyle center licenses, which, like the license proposed in D.C.’s bill, allow consumers to walk around the commercial center with alcoholic beverages – as long as they were bought from a business in the area and are in plastic cups branded by said business.
Meanwhile, in Maryland, legislation to legalize alcohol delivery services is making the rounds. The state passed a temporary executive order in mid-March last year, but local businesses and organizations like the Brewers Association of Maryland, the Maryland Wineries Association and the Maryland Distillers Guild are pushing to make it permanent.
One local business that supports the bill is Pennyroyal Station, an American comfort food destination in the heart of Mount Rainier. Co-founder Garrick Lumsden says Pennyroyal began offering cocktail delivery alongside takeout back when the measure was first put into place.
“Our team is all for it,” he says. “I don’t think it’s hurting anyone, and it definitely adds to the experience of getting takeout from restaurants because you can also now offer your specialty cocktails.”
Some of the popular specialty cocktails offered at Pennyroyal include the Green Goddess, a herb-based cocktail made with Brazilian rum, and the Black-Eyed Susan, a bourbon, vodka and orange liqueur fusion mixed with their own sour mix.
Lumsden adds that while the takeout has definitely helped Pennyroyal keep their doors open during pandemic restrictions, it will also require some flexibility on his part when things start to go back to semi-normal.
“We’re definitely for the takeout cocktails and foods, as we’re trying to adjust to the business models of having people back into the building,” he says. “We’re trying to figure out the happy medium between takeout and indoor dining.”
Palette 22: 4053 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.palette22.com // @palette22
Pennyroyal Station: 3310 Rhode Island Ave. Mt Rainier, MD; www.pennyroyalstation.com // @pennyroyalstation
Tiki TNT: 1130 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.tikitnt.com // @tikitnt
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