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Maryland bars and restaurants shuttered by coronavirus can now deliver beer and wine

Paul Bankert, of the Bluebird Cocktail Room, organizes hand-mixed cocktails bottled for sale at The Pub, located below the Bluebird on Hickory Avenue in Hampden. Takeout food and liquor orders are a welcome option for beleaguered bar owners hit by the coronavirus, and official approvals to provide the service are being expedited.
Paul Bankert, of the Bluebird Cocktail Room, organizes hand-mixed cocktails bottled for sale at The Pub, located below the Bluebird on Hickory Avenue in Hampden. Takeout food and liquor orders are a welcome option for beleaguered bar owners hit by the coronavirus, and official approvals to provide the service are being expedited.(Amy Davis)

Like restaurants across Maryland, The Bluebird began offering a carryout menu this week in an effort to recoup some of the losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Among the offerings at the Hampden pub: Scotch eggs, kale salads and bottled cocktails like their signature Old Fashioned, made with Old Grandad whiskey and large enough to serve ten people.

In the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, a small silver lining for bars and restaurants: The executive order from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan banning on-premise drinking and dining at area establishments also allows them to offer drinks for carryout and delivery, says Tom Akras, deputy executive secretary of the liquor license board.

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The change may be a small help to the hospitality industry that’s been gut-punched by coronavirus and the need for broad social distancing measures.

In Baltimore County, officials havestarted fast-tracking requests from liquor stores, restaurants and bars to be allowed to deliver to county residents. These businesses were already allowed to deliver alcohol, but typically the process requires a hearing, said Mike Mohler, chief administrator of the county liquor board. That requirement has been waived.

Businesses that have been penalized for serving minors within the past three years will not be approved for delivery, he said.

“We’re doing this primarily by email,” Mohler said. “As long as the record’s clean, we’ll approve it.”

The goal is to help local businesses during a time of economic uncertainty. “Since they’re closed, but delivery is an option for them … we see a number of establishments trying to change their business model to keep their cash flow going and to keep people working,” Mohler said.

Several Baltimore restaurant managers contacted by The Baltimore Sun were unaware that the law might allow them to deliver alcohol.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Aaron Isle, general manager at Cosima. The restaurant along the Jones Falls near Hampden plans to offer takeout and delivery, with some servers now driving vehicles. “I think we would most certainly take advantage of it.”

On Monday, officials with Baltimore’s liquor license board teamed up with officers from the police department to visit local establishments and ensure that they were selling liquor for carryout only, Akras said. It’s a strange reversal for the department, usually charged with making sure that licensees aren’t operating “sham taverns,” or pretending to have a bar while really only operating as a liquor store.

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“This thing is changing by the day,” Akras said.

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