Everything to Know About NYC’s New To-Go Booze Laws

Desperate times call for creative drinking measures

March 19, 2020 9:26 am
Due to coronavirus concerns, Dante is now delivery / take-out only. But drinks included.
S. Freihon

For now, we’re living in a quarantined takeout/delivery world where restaurants are operating with shorter hours and limited menus. But it’s also, in at least one way, a whole new world for booze. While bars are temporarily shuttered and restaurants can’t seat anyone, the State Liquor Authority has granted New York dining establishments unheralded leeway when it comes to serving beer, wine and even cocktails.

Simply put, you can now get drinks to go or have them delivered. Which is going to make getting through the Coronavirus Era a little easier. 

It’s early days on the new law (it’s been less than a week, if you can believe it), but some restaurants have already jumped at the opportunity to deliver booze. One leading example: Red Hook’s cafe-bar Fort Defiance, which is currently offering a special takeout menu from 12-8 p.m. daily (347-453-6672) that includes to-go 6-oz. cocktails, including martinis, Manhattans and Sazeracs.

“For years, I’ve been making bottled cocktails for myself and my friends,” explains Fort Defiance’s proprietor, St. John Frizell (who also moonlights as a drinks writer). “‘I’d pack a dozen or so in the car for every camping trip — they’re a nice way to introduce yourself to your fellow campers or anyone you meet along the way. I can vouch for their high mixological quality and effectiveness.” 

We asked Frizell for a quick rundown on the new booze-to-go laws and what (and how) you should order.  

What are some practical challenges with making drinks for takeaway/delivery?

“There are some drinks that really bottle well, and drinks that don’t. Any stirred drink — Manhattans, Martinis, Old Fashioneds, Negronis — works great in a bottle. You can mix them, seal them up, keep them in your cupboard for a year — they’ll taste great when you crack them open. Any shaken drink — drinks with lemon or lime juice like margaritas, sidecars, daiquiris — work less well. The flavor of those drinks will change in the bottle over time, even after a few hours. We’re going to experiment with bottling some shaken drinks, but I’m not optimistic. Ditto with highballs like gin-and-tonics or anything fizzy — most of us don’t have the right equipment to bottle carbonated drinks under pressure.”

Should NYC keep this to-go drinks rule in place after the emergency?

“Honestly, why not? The rules against it date back to the end of Prohibition, when the government had to protect people against bootleg hooch that made people blind. We’ve come a long way since then.” 

What else can New Yorkers do to help restaurateurs during this time? 

“Buy as many gift certificates as you can from your favorite places. It’s a win-win — the guest gets credit for a meal in the future, and the restaurant gets the cash they need right now. Think about it as a flexible spending account for food and drinks.”

If you want to know exactly what the new rules entail, here’s what the New York State Liquor Authority outlines. Essentially, you can buy whatever types of drinks the business already has a license to sell. The drinks have to be in containers that follow current open-container laws (so expect flasks, growlers and even sealed pouches). And you have to purchase food to get drinks — which sadly leaves out booze-only establishments — although the amount of food is vague and already you can easily get, say, an appetizer plate and batched cocktails that’ll serve 10. 

Also, restaurants are limiting their hours for takeout/delivery, and there are some logistical challenges (any car for delivery needs to have a copy of the establishment’s liquor license, which means it’s probably easier and you’ll have a better selection if you do this as takeout).

There are new places, hours and menus popping up daily, so we’d suggest starting with places you like and areas near you, then going directly to the restaurant’s website/social-media sites for guidance (you can also use delivery sites like GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, UberEats, etc., but given the variance of menus and times, start with the venue directly … which may also only be taking phone orders).

Below, a few places with interesting boozy offers; and be sure to check out Brian Weber’s site for an updated list of places that are offering to-go/delivery drinks, not just for New York but nationwide.

Butter & Scotch: The Crown Heights dessert bar is offering $45 cocktail kits.

The Good Fork: Along with family-style meals, you can BYO growler and get a beer fill-up for $25 on to-go orders at this Red Hook joint. As well, “All pickups will be accompanied by an antiseptic shot of Van Brunt Stillhouse bourbon.”

Gold Star Beer Counter: The Prospect Heights beer spot already had a window you could walk up to if you wanted to order cans or get a growler filled. One of the best selections in the borough is hanging tight to serve locals.

Dante: The world’s current #1 bar has a to-go menus with $10 cocktail options (yes, including the Negroni) along with large-format, pre-matched martinis good for 10 servings

Patent Pending: One of the more unusual delivery and takeout menus features an array of cocktails, coffee drinks, bone broth, cookies and a free roll of toilet paper on orders of $50 or more.

Someday: They’re only offering this from 12-4 p.m. so far, but this Atlantic Ave. venue will throw in a free bottle of Misguided Spirits Rye Whiskey for every $100 you spend on booze.

Fausto: Owner Joe Campanale is picking out some primo bottles of wine from the cellar of the the beloved Park Slope Italian spot. Order some pasta, but leave with bottle of red or orange.

Travel Bar: Barrel-aged batched cocktails that’ll serve 10 for to-go orders from this Brooklyn venue.

And finally, a few things to consider even if you’re not ordering in or getting takeout, but still want to enjoy a drink and support your favorite establishment:

The temporarily closed cocktail bar Death & Co is featuring different bartenders’ cocktails via Instagram with recipes for followers to recreate at home, along with an option to virtually tip the staff. 

And many bars and bartenders are setting up virtual happy hours and cocktail tutorials online, often with Venmo tipping options.

Tip well, keep drinking (in moderation) and we’ll all get through this together.


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