Last week, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut limited all restaurants and bars to takeout and delivery as part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But the New York State Liquor Authority threw some of those businesses a small lifeline in the form of “new off-premises privileges.” Translation: drinks to go.
This allowance requires drinks to be ordered with a purchase of food. According to Bill Crowley, a spokesman for the Liquor Authority, a bag of chips as part of the order would satisfy the mandate.
Among the New York City bars that quickly began to offer takeout cocktails were PDT, Attaboy, Middle Branch, Sugar Monk and Angel’s Share in Manhattan; Hunky Dory, Leyenda, Seaborne, Donna, Fresh Kills and Fort Defiance in Brooklyn; and Dutch Kills and Selma’s Bar in Queens.
Others, like Existing Conditions in Manhattan, plan to begin soon. Some bars are working with food-delivery services like Caviar, but each bar has worked out a different business model, and many cocktails can be ordered by phone or email for pickup.
Jeff Bell, an owner of PDT, in the East Village, was one of the first to sell to-go drinks, including bar favorites like a mezcal mule and the Benton’s old-fashioned in sizes from individual, one-drink flasks ($12) to growlers that contain up to 12 drinks ($120). Each order came with tater tots.
For a time, Mr. Bell engaged in a playful social-media rivalry with the nearby bar Attaboy, which was turning out several of its most popular cocktails, including the Penicillin, a twist on a whiskey sour. Hunky Dory, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, began its takeout service with Irish coffees and later sold martini packages, which included three bottled martinis for two, garnishes and two glasses for $55. Last weekend, Leyenda sold bottled palomas and margaritas through its window on Smith Street in Brooklyn.
Several bars reported moving more than 200 cocktails a day. Drinks have been delivered in a wide variety of impromptu vessels, from Ball jars to coffee cups to capped glass soda bottles. Gloves, constant sanitizing and social distancing are part of every exchange of money and goods.
After Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared last Friday that all nonessential businesses must close, a few bars, including PDT, closed up shop. Some cut back on their hours of operation.
But others that have a strong food component (restaurants were deemed essential businesses) have continued. Dante, in Greenwich Village, has done a brisk business in negronis and martinis. The stopgap innovation has had a positive effect: Linden Pride, an owner of Dante, said that after laying off 50 staff members last week, he has been able to hire back 10 for the to-go business.
“I keep saying that we are trying to turn liquid into liquid,” said Claire Sprouse, an owner of Hunky Dory. “We have bills to pay, a staff to support, even after being laid off, and the future is uncertain. Every cocktail helps right now.”