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Old School margarita at Sweet Liberty.EXPAND
Old School margarita at Sweet Liberty.
Photo by Ellie Groden

DeSantis Stiffs Florida Drinkers With New Coronavirus Booze Rules

Early Friday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order declaring a Public Health Emergency and a state of emergency for all of Florida as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In the five-page declaration, DeSantis addressed restaurants and bars, closing all dining rooms statewide but allowing takeout and delivery of food.

In addition, the governor addressed the sale of alcohol, shutting off on-premises consumption but allowing restaurants and bars to sell wine, beer, ciders, and spirits in sealed containers. The move lets restaurants and bars that lack so-called package licenses sell stock from their inventories of wine, beer, and spirits (as long as the customer is ordering something to eat along with their tipple of choice).

What a nice guy, right?

The trouble is, DeSantis' order is a case of too little, too late for Florida's restaurants and bars. The ones that haven't completely closed up shop for the duration are on the food-service equivalent of life support. Establishments that would normally welcome a robust crowd for Friday happy hour are, at best, packing a burger or two for an Uber Eats driver to pick up and deliver.

Florida's restaurateurs and bar owners didn't expect the governor to wave a magic wand and make coronavirus disappear.

But at the very least, he could have allowed them to pour their customers a drink.

That's exactly what New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did this week. On Monday, Cuomo authorized the New York State Liquor Authority to do most of what DeSantis just did, plus sell cocktails.

To wit: New York's order provides that "alcoholic beverage sold for off-premises consumption pursuant to this guidance may be sold in any closed or any sealed original container of any size."

There's even a Q&A section that makes it clear as a jigger of gin:

I operate a tavern with limited food. Can I deliver/sell for takeout alcoholic beverages with orders of food consisting of items such as potato chips, pretzels, peanuts, etc.? Yes, if this is the standard food requirement for your license, you may sell alcoholic beverages for takeout or delivery with these items.

Can I sell mixed drinks for takeout or for delivery sales? Yes, provided the beverage is placed in a closed container. All sales must be consistent with municipal open container ordinances.

Cuomo isn't drinking alone, mind you.

On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a waiver allowing restaurants to deliver alcohol accompanied by food purchases. The waiver covers beer, wine, and mixed drinks. Today California issued a similar order.

It's safe to say Miami bar and restaurant owners aren't raising a toast to DeSantis.

"If you can't figure out how to help the small restaurant or business owner, what are you doing?" says Dan Binkiewicz, a partner in Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company in Miami Beach. In Binkiewicz's view, Florida's half-measure amounts to nothing more than "lazy politics." He adds, "You know you're going to lose at least 20 percent of restaurants in the state and you can't do the small stuff?"

Ben Potts, co-owner of Beaker & Gray in Wynwood and the Sylvester in the Design District, expressed similar sentiments when New Times called. Potts, who has shuttered the Sylvester and is struggling to keep Beaker & Gray's lights on with pickup and delivery orders, sees no reason Florida shouldn't allow restaurants and bars to sell cocktails. "If the government is going to ask everyone to stay home and pick up their food from grocery stores or restaurants that are handling food, what's the difference with a beverage?"

Potts notes that purveying a few mixed drinks to customers is more responsible than selling them entire bottles of booze. "Most people have no idea of portion control when mixing a drink at home," he says. "A bartender, however, will make a batched cocktail with a regulated amount of alcohol. I don't know what the issue is."

At least one bar in Miami is quietly preparing batched cocktails for its clientele. Its owners asked that New Times withhold the bar's name "because any attention may shut us down completely" and then shared that they're mixing up batches of margaritas and daiquiris in order to make ends meet during the crisis.

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