Bills To Allow Cocktails-To-Go, Drinking Districts Approved By Michigan Legislature

WWJ News
June 24, 2020 - 1:09 pm

(WWJ) Cocktails-to-go and designated drinking districts would be allowed in from Michigan under bills approved Wednesday by the state Legislature. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign the legislation, sent to her desk as part of a package of bills including a temporary cut in state liquor prices to help businesses hurting during the coronavirus pandemic.

The package includes a law to allow local governments to designate special drinking districts, also known as  "social districts," where people age 21 and up can walk around in public with an alcoholic drinks — much like is allowed in New Orleans or the Las Vegas strip. 

Supporters say the bills will give Michigan’s hospitality industry another tool to help make up for the financial losses suffered during the COVID-19 crisis, and also balance the need for customers to practice safe social distancing.

"When the pandemic first started we asked to an executive order cocktails-to-go, and we had a lot of pushback from liquor control that did not want it, and didn't think it was gonna happen," Scott Ellis, with Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, told WWJ's Dan Jenkins. "So we decided to go the legislative route and have a long-term fix, which in the end is going to be better." 

"As you know, we are at 50% (restaurant a bar capacity due to COVID-19) and we don't know how long we're gonna be at that for," he said, "so every little bit that can help us will help us right now."

The state already lets bars and restaurants sell unopened beer and wine to go, but this expands on that to allow mixed drinks — in sealed containers — to be sold by licensed bars and restaurants for pickup or delivery, though 2025.

“We all know the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on businesses across Michigan,” said Rep. Michael Webber of Rochester Hills, who co-sponsored the legislation. “...We must explore opportunities that will provide some economic support to our local establishments fighting to keep their doors open. This legislation would give local governments another tool to help support bars and restaurants in their communities while making it easier for customers to follow social distancing guidelines.”

Ellis said he's excited about the drinking districts, which they've been pushing for prior to COVID-19.

Different from the cocktails-to-go law, this would allow the sale of open drinks for consumption on-site, in designated areas.

"The idea is to allow people to visit many different places in that district, and the bars and restaurants in that area can maybe chip in for a band outside and create an entertainment area there," Ellis said. "San Antonio's been doing it for years, Ohio's been doing it for over a year. And this would allow the districts, the cities to create those in that area, and bars and restaurants can participate in it."

So, should we expected to see these districts popping up before the end of the summer, and where will they be?

Ellis said all of that will be up to municipalities themselves to decide.

"The cities have been clamoring," Ellis said. "We've worked with the Michigan Municipal League in many different cities and local law enforcement to help them be ready. The city of Lansing; I have a meeting tomorrow in the in the city of Lansing with their development, downtown development, and one of their city council members to figure out the best way to set it up. So, cities are very excited about this."

Ellis said he expects cities to set up and enforcement these districts responsibly. 

Laws regarding open alcohol containers in vehicles would remain the same under this legislation.