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Politics and Government

Big idea: Colorado could extend to-go cocktails beyond coronavirus to make them the “law of the land”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to let restaurants sell to-go cocktails, beer and wine forever. Liquor stores want the brakes pumped.

Teocalli Cocina bartender Tim Knight prepares a to-go cocktail on June 3, 2020. The Lafayette, Colorado, restaurant reopened to in-person dining on May 27, but continued doing brisk business with curbside pickup of food and drinks. Alcoholic beverages are served in plastic or paper cups with a lid and a Colorado Department of Revenue "seal" taped on that warns purchasers that opening the mixed drink in the car is illegal. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)
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It’s about the only thing from the pandemic that people want to keep. 

A bipartisan bill up for debate this legislative session would allow the to-go Moscow mules, Manhattans and margaritas that became a welcome part of quarantine life for many Coloradans to keep flowing. 

Lawmakers last summer passed legislation to allow restaurants to continue selling to-go cocktails, beer and wine until July, picking up what Gov. Jared Polis started in an executive order when he forced restaurants to shut down in-person dining last spring. Now, a group of Republican and Democratic legislators intend to make it permanent. 

The Colorado Sun invited Gov. Jared Polis and four state lawmakers to present their big ideas ahead of the 2021 legislative session during a virtual event on Feb. 11. Watch it here.

Skip to 49:30 in the video below to see Rep. Colin Larson’s pitch for permanent to-go cocktails:

“We are just dropping the expiration date,” said Rep. Colin Larson, who presented his plan at a Colorado Sun forum Thursday night ahead of Tuesday’s start to the legislative session. 

Larson is a Republican from Jefferson County who has been known to order take-out margaritas from his go-to neighborhood Mexican joint, Los Dos Potrillos. “Most people are wondering why it took COVID for us to make this legal. We are going to make this the new law of the land.” 

Coloradans love it, he said. Restaurants love it, Larson said, it’s “literally the lifeline that is keeping them alive” during a year when they’ve been forced to close to in-person dining and then faced severe capacity restrictions.

State Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton

Here is who doesn’t love it: liquor stores. 

Kachina Weaver, who leads the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said she’d like to see take-out alcohol sales from restaurants continue for another year or two. Then, at the end of that stretch, Colorado could more thoroughly evaluate the practice.

“This bill was passed quickly,” she said, “There wasn’t a lot of time to think through what are all of the guardrails or requirements that are needed.”

For starters, Weaver wants to make sure to-go cocktails are sealed and have proper labeling in order to prevent drinking while driving. Right now, people can pick up drinks curbside in plastic cups with tape over the straw hole and paper labels warning them not to drink them while driving home. 

And Weaver said she’s heard about restaurants acting like liquor stores, posting signs such as “liquor store inside” or displaying bottles of wine for sale on tables. 

“We all want the restaurants to continue, but we also want to make sure the policy post pandemic” is done the right way, she said.

Larson, who formerly owned two coffeeshops, said liquor stores clearly feel threatened financially by the proposal but that he doesn’t see to-go cocktail sales as their direct competition. Liquor stores have experienced record sales during the pandemic. And people order to-go cocktails because they want to support restaurants and because they want someone to mix their drink for them. 

“Nobody is sitting around thinking, ‘Do I want a $12 Los Dos Potrillos margarita or do I want to go buy a $20 handle of tequila and make my own margaritas?” Larson said. 

A mask hangs off a beer at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland on Nov. 25, 2020. (Valerie Mosley, Special to The Colorado Sun)

For the same beer that costs $9 at a restaurant, a person could buy an entire six-pack at a liquor store, he said. 

As for regulating the types of allowable containers and required labels, Larson said the state liquor board would establish those rules. 

Rising Sun