Food & Drinks

Chicago Finally Makes To-Go Cocktails Legal

In a bit of an unexpected move, Chicago’s city council has legalized to-go cocktails effective immediately. Council members approved the measure Wednesday afternoon without objections and a few minutes after watching that Zoom meeting — at 1:26 p.m. — bartender Julia Momose sold Chicago’s first legal to-go cocktail from her West Loop bar, Kumiko. Momose had led the charge to legalize to-go drinks, arguing bars needed the revenue stream to keep afloat while COVID-19 decimated restaurants and bars which were forced to close during the pandemic.

Momose and her colleagues cheered and clapped after the council announced its vote Wednesday afternoon. Gov. J.B. Pritzker had signed a bill into law earlier in the month making sales legal in Illinois, joining 34 other states. But Chicago’s bars still needed council members to sign off on the matter. The ordinance goes into affect immediately. That’s pleasant news as observers worried the city would discuss the matter on Wednesday and wait until next month to approve the measure.

To-go cocktails need to have labels with a bar’s liquor license number and ingredients.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

The ordinance only temporarily allows sales. It will expire in a year, coinciding when Pritzker signed the state bill. Momose and her Cocktails For Hope lobbying team are already preparing to fight Springfield next year to make legislation permanent. They battled the Illinois Liquor Control Commission since late March in trying to convince the state to legalize to-go drinks.

Under the law, third parties aren’t allowed to delivery cocktails. There’s worries about accountability and age verification. Drinks needs to be in tamper-proof and sealed containers — lids with “sipping holes or openings for straws or a container made of plastic, paper, or polystyrene foam,” don’t count. Drinks, which need proper labeling (including a bar’s liquor license number), need secure lids or caps. Drinks also have a seven-day expiration date; containers filled before than need to be tossed. Drinks also need to be stored in trunks during deliveries.

Julia Momose was joyful after Chicago finally legalized to-go cocktails.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

Momose sold her first cocktail to her Cocktails for Hope collaborator, Ian Beacraft. Momose says she’s got most of her full lineup available for carryout. Drinks will need refrigeration. Some need to be placed in the freezer for a few minutes before consumption. They range $26 to $38 and come two per container. To-go cocktails have higher margins compare to cocktail kits which are mixed at home.

A few restaurants and bars have ignored the law and sold to-go cocktails during the pandemic. Guerrilla to-go cocktail delivery services also emerged. Now legalized in Chicago, entrepreneurs are primed to capitalize. A new company, Blue Blazer, is drawing clients including Heisler Hospitality (Pub Royale, Lone Wolf), Four Corners (Federales, Benchmark) Folkart (Billy Sunday, Mordecai), and Fujimura Hospitality (Arami, Entente). The company wants to bring more companies into the fold as clients. The service, which delivers ready-to-drink cocktails should go live sometime this summer, according to a news release.

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