Pa. House panel moves to make take-out cocktails permanent | Wednesday Morning Coffee

May 5, 2021 7:13 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

From the office mullet (business up top, sweats down below) to streaming first-run cinema, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to get creative about aspects of everyday life that we’d always taken for granted.

But no innovation screams ‘pandemic breakthrough’ quite like the to-go cocktail. Which now seems so insanely obvious it’s a wonder that it took the worst public health crisis in a century to finally make it real. But, hey, this is Pennsylvania, and our regulatory relationship with booze is … ahh … eccentric to say the least.

But with the bars closed early on during the pandemic, and then under strict occupancy limits later on, these stadium-sized flagons of mixed drinks (with the token bit of tape over the top of the straw) were as close as any of us got to an authentic bar experience.

Well, there’s some good news for devotees of these adult sippy-cups: On Tuesday, the House Liquor Control Committee voted 23-0 to approve legislation sponsored by Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland, a permanent fact of life in the Commonwealth. The bill now goes to the full House for action.

As you might imagine, after months of taking it on the chin economically, interest groups representing Pennsylvania’s embattled booze and saloon industries raised their plastic and/or paper cups in salute.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated Pennsylvania’s hospitality businesses, and it will take years for them to fully recover,” David Wojnar, the senior VP of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said in a statement. “Cocktails to-go [have] proven to be a vital part of survival during COVID-19 for Pennsylvania businesses, and making this measure permanent will only provide increased stability in the future. We thank the House Liquor Control Committee for moving this measure forward and encourage the full House to take up and pass this bill as soon as possible.”

(Image via

All told, more than 30 states began allowing restaurants and/or bars to sell cocktails to-go as a COVID relief measure, according to Wojnar’s group. Already, lawmakers in Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia and Washington D.C. have made take-out cocktails permanent. And other states are contemplating a similar change, the trade group said.

In a memo soliciting co-sponsors for his measureMasser made essentially the same argument, noting that “making this initiative permanent will provide our bars and restaurants with a needed option to continue to make up funds that they lost during this crisis.”

The committee’s vote comes on top of the Wolf administration’s announcement Tuesday that it plans to lift its remaining pandemic mitigation measures, except for its mask mandate, by Memorial Day. The mask mandate stays in place until 70 percent of adults are vaccinated.

In a statement, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, which represents saloon-keepers around the state (and supports Masser’s bill), welcomed the news, saying the last 14 months, “have been some of the worst in industry history. There are countless stories of financial ruin and jobs lost.”

The industry group thanked the Legislature for its assistance, but also offered hearty thanks to patrons who kept their favorite watering holes going during the pandemic by buying gift cards or by ordering take-out.

“As many tavern owners know, it was the support of patrons ordering take-out or buying gift cards during the roughest days of mitigation orders that allowed many establishments to keep their heads above water,” the industry group said.

We’ll raise our take-out martini to that.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
You might recall that, a week or so back, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said the most Rick Santorum thing ever about what North America was like before the Europeans came rolling into town with their smallpox and whiskey. Cassie Miller spoke to a Native American leader who’d like to remind Santorum, now a CNN commentator, of the reality of that history.

A group of census and data experts called on Congress on Tuesday to increase funding for the U.S. Census Bureau, saying the agency needs the money to pay for infrastructure improvements, Miller also reports.

And a new coordinated effort between the Wolf administration and Rite Aid pharmacies aims to ease vaccine access barriers for Pennsylvanians with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Miller further reports.

The Wolf administration said Tuesday that will lift its COVID-19 restrictions by Memorial Day, on May 31, except for its mask mandate, which will be lifted when 70 percent of Pennsylvanians aged 18 and older are fully vaccinated, I report.

In a related story, states with higher vaccine demand will be able to request more from the feds, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson writes.

Members of Philadelphia City Council have questioned Mayor Jim Kenney’s commitment to growing Black-owned businesses in his proposed 2021 budget plan, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, two solar advocates explain how Pennsylvania can level the playing field with clean energy. And President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan targets lead pipes that threaten public health across the U.S. – including Pa., an Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis expert writes.

Philly DA hopeful Carlos Vega is making incumbent prosecutor Larry Krasner ‘fight for his job’ as the May 18 primary closes in, the Inquirer reports.
Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy, fueled by international markets, is mining more coal than ever, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive has its voters guide for the 2021 elections.
LancasterOnline talks to restaurant owners who are contending with a labor shortage, even as pandemic restrictions are set to be fully lifted by month’s end.
The Morning Call did the same — and finds people ‘itching’ to get out again.
And ditto for the Citizens’ Voicewhich heralds a ‘rebirth’ for area businesses.
USA Today’s Pennsylvania Capital Bureau considers whether disabled workers are served by a sub-minimum wage (paywall).

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Bradley B. Photography (@berksbr)

Meanwhile, in Delaware, starting May 21, state officials will lift capacity limits for restaurants, retail stores, and churchesWHYY-FM reports.
Healthcare providers are pushing vaccinations for the state’s Amish and Mennonite communitiesWESA-FM reports (via WITF-FM).
Local home-school groups have seen their membership grow during the pandemic, the Herald-Standard reports (paywall).
Trevor Southerland, the former executive director of Virginia’s House Democratic Caucus, has been named the new executive director of the House Democratic Campaign CommitteePoliticsPA reports.
In Texas, companies are remaining silent on proposed voting restrictions – at least in public, reports.
Ex-President Donald Trump launched a new blog Tuesday to get his message out to supporters, Politico reports. But Twitter and Facebook bans remain in place, making it tough to elevate the material.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 11 a.m. today. Here’s a look at the day’s event and committee action.
9:30 a.m., 205 Ryan: House Finance Committee
9:30 a.m., 515 Irvis North: House Health Committee
10 a.m., 60 EW: House Commerce Committee
10 a.m., Live Streamed: Senate Democratic Policy Committee
10 a.m., 523 Irvis South: House Local Government Committee
10 a.m, B31 MC: House Transportation Committee
Call of the Chair, 140 MC: House Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Keith Greiner
6:30 p.m.: 
Reception for U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans
Ride the circuit, and give at the max today, and you’re out a mildly preposterous $5,500 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
heads to State College at 2 p.m. today, where he’ll urge Penn State students to get vaccinated.

Heavy Rotation.
Singer-songwriter Chris Cacavas, a veteran of the Paisley Underground scene of the 1980s, where he played keys with scene legends Green on Red, and lately, the keyboard player for the reconstituted Dream Syndicate, completes another trip around the sun today. Here’s the title track from his solo LP, ‘Burn the Maps.’ Happy Birthday, sir.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Baltimore lost a late one on the coast to Seattle 5-2 
on Tuesday night. The Os are in last place in the AL East, four games out of first place.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.