Montgomery County restaurants can now serve mixed drinks to go in sealed plastic containers while they remain closed for sit-down service during the coronavirus pandemic.
The county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS) department made the change on Tuesday, as an update to an existing policy it approved on March 18 allowing beer and wine to be sold for pickup and delivery. Hard liquor had been excluded.
Following Montgomery County’s allowance of restaurants to sell beer and wine off premises, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order on March 19 that included a provision allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold for pickup and delivery in sealed containers.
Earlier in the week, Hogan ordered the closing of all bars and restaurants across the state, except for pickup and delivery.
Kathie Durbin, ABS’s division chief for licensure, regulation and education, said in an interview on Wednesday that, as president of the Maryland Alcohol Licensing Association, she met last weekend with representatives from 25 liquor boards across Maryland and representatives from Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office.
Durbin said they discussed the implications of Hogan’s executive order.
“We started talking amongst ourselves: ‘What does this mean? What does this mean?’ And not everyone had allowed what we had done already,” she said.
On Sunday, Durbin said the comptroller’s office gave all of the county liquor boards guidance that Hogan’s executive order “temporarily deregulates some elements of regulation” and “allows for undefined alcohol to be sold in undefined sealed containers.”
“It wasn’t as clear from the executive order, but by Sunday, we received word that it’s OK to do this, to have the carryout [of liquor],” she said.
Durbin said she met with the ABS staff and the county’s Board of License Commissioners on Monday about adding liquor to the carryout policy. The change took effect Tuesday morning, she said.
After the change, Durbin said, ABS sent a letter to all businesses that had already been licensed in the county to sell beer and wine off-premises since last week.
“While the Governor’s order to close all restaurants as a part of the catastrophic health emergency remains in effect, all restaurants licensed by the Montgomery County Board of License Commissioners may sell sealed containers of beer, wine, and liquor (for those with a qualifying liquor license) for off-premises consumption along with a takeout or delivered meal,” the letter stated.
About 240 businesses, Durbin said, have registered online to serve alcohol off-premises since ABS made its initial change last week.
“We had already created an online system for those businesses to do those types of carryout, and so these businesses were already approved. We sent them an updated letter explaining what they can do,” she said.
Chef Geoff Tracy, who owns Lia’s in Chevy Chase, said in an interview that starting Thursday evening, the restaurant would be selling 12-ounce Cinnamon Apple Sangria and Classic Margaritas for $6 each.
“We’ll look to expand those options,” he said. “As you can probably imagine, we’re all trying to reinvent the wheel here. We’re making all this stuff as we go, so I do commend Montgomery County … by allowing us to pour cocktails …. If we had an open bottle of tequila, then it’s perfect for using up those products that are on the back of the bar that are partially used. And so it’s gonna be great to sell those.”
Cameron Jardeleza, the manager of Trapezaria in Rockville, said on Wednesday that his restaurant hadn’t started selling cocktails, yet but would think about it.
“We’re all just trying to get used to what’s going on. We’ve sold wine and beer and stuff like that. Wine for us has been the big seller,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org