A cocktail to go with that carryout dinner? The option might be here to stay.

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To keep his Irish pubs going during a pandemic, Anthony Clarke has come to depend on carryout business and on the pints of Guinness, bottles of wine and Jameson crush cocktails he sells with takeout meals.

Clarke, who runs four restaurants in Anne Arundel County, has persevered through nearly a year of on-and-off government shutdowns and restrictions on indoor dining. Sales, however, plunged more than 40%.


But throughout a health crisis that has forced closures of dozens of area restaurants, carryout has proved a dependable, if not large, source of revenue. And so have sales of alcohol to-go that restaurants with liquor licenses have been permitted to offer during Maryland’s state of emergency.

Restaurateurs such as Clarke say their ability to offer to-go alcoholic drinks with meals should continue in a post-COVID-19 world. A proposal by some state lawmakers would allow that to happen.


“To be able to pick up a restaurant-cooked meal with a cocktail that only bartenders can make or a pint of Guinness is a unique opportunity,” said Clarke, owner of Galway Bay in Annapolis, Killarney House in Davidsonville, Pirates Cove in Galesville and Brian Boru in Severna Park.

“Restaurants have done this responsibly,” he said. “The convenience is something that’s very attractive to everybody.”

Companion bills in the House of Delegates and state Senate would allow restaurants, bars and taverns to sell beer, wine and liquor in closed containers for carryout and delivery, as long as the alcoholic beverages accompany prepared food.

State Sen. Shelly Hettleman, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the Senate bill, said making the to-go cocktail rules permanent “could be very helpful for our restaurant industry right now that’s really suffering. I think people have really enjoyed it, and it doesn’t seem like there have been abuses, so why not continue a good thing?”

Davidsonville resident Christi Hudgins has begun adding orange crush cocktails or margaritas to the shepherd’s pie, oysters or potato cakes she and her husband order for dinner from Killarney House a couple times a month. Being able to pick up freshly blended cocktails they wouldn’t prepare themselves makes the takeout experience that much more enjoyable, she said.

“You drive home and pick up food and why not?” said Hudgins, a 47-year-old human resources manager. The drinks are “so fresh and so good, and you don’t have to do the work after a long day.”

Hudgins said she’d still like to have the option of cocktails with takeout after the health crisis eases.

Lydia Chang offered only carryout when she opened a Chinese restaurant, NiHao, in Canton in July. When the restaurant got its liquor license in October, it opened for indoor dining and started offering cocktails to-go, along with food. But Baltimore officials ordered restaurants shut down indoors in December. Chang reopened for on-premises dining the last weekend of January, a week after restrictions were lifted.


Chang has tried to find creative twists for carryout. A whole Peking duck item comes with a kit to make duck bone broth noodle soup and is meant to last for days. For dessert, customers can choose cookies or just the dough, to be frozen and baked later. Alcohol offers yet another avenue, and has been part of about 15% to 20% of orders, she said.

In December, the restaurant offered an eggnog drink special, packaged in a two-portion closed Mason jar. It took off.

“We sold a couple hundred eggnog drinks,” Chang said. “I was surprised. It’s really helpful when it comes to per-person check or per-order average.

“We’re trying different ways to offer the convenience of, ‘Hey, I don’t need to go to all these different places to get something I want at home.’”

Del. Courtney Watson, a Howard County Democrat, said she introduced the bill in the House to help restaurants as demand for carryout and delivery has grown.

“This would provide another path of viability for our restaurants,” Watson said. “Any bit of profit margin we can allow them to have will help keep these small businesses in business and keep people working.”


The House and Senate proposals, backed by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, would allow alcohol delivery only with prepared food orders and only by licensed restaurants’ employees, not by services such as Uber Eats or Grubhub.

It would limit hours to no later than 11 p.m. And establishments would need to get approval from local liquor boards, whose regulations vary from county to county.

At a House Economic Matters Committee hearing Friday, most lawmakers sounded generally receptive to the idea but raised questions about whether local liquor boards should be able to limit just how much booze a restaurant can bundle into a to-go or delivery order. A Queen Anne’s County commissioner also suggested giving liquor boards the power to pull the plug at some point down the line.

Several public health advocates expressed concern it might help fuel problematic drinking and drunken driving and that lax ID checking could make it easier for teens to get alcohol. The bill’s backers argued that safeguards in the bill lined up with existing law — including banning drinking in cars and mandating age verification — and wouldn’t significantly shift the availability of alcohol in the state.

The proposal doesn’t seem, at least so far, to have provoked any serious opposition from different segments of the booze industry, Hettleman said. Jockeying among stakeholders — bar owners, distillers, distributors, shopkeepers — often turns even relatively minor tweaks to Maryland’s liquor laws into a barroom brawl. But in this case, Hettleman said, “there did seem to be consensus.”

Jack Milani, legislative co-chair of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, said he felt confident the legislative language could be written in a way that works for members of the industry across the board, from restaurants to liquor store owners, all of which the group represents.


Mike Scheuerman, owner of Friendship Wine & Liquor in Abingdon, said he has no objection to the proposal as long as it doesn’t become an alcohol-only delivery service.

“The on-premises places have really suffered the most,” Scheuerman said, while business has boomed at stores such as his as people buy more alcohol for home consumption.

Milani, of the beverage association, occupies both worlds, running a restaurant/bar and a package goods store as owner of Monaghan’s Pub in Gwynn Oak.

“The store’s doing better than normal, and obviously the bar is not,” he said. “We’re in this business of accommodating people, and we have to figure out what that is and just adjust.”

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Being able to sell beer, wine and liquor has been a “saving grace” for the Iron Rooster restaurants, said Kyle Algaze, owner of two locations in Baltimore, one in Annapolis and another in Hunt Valley.

His restaurants have “all taken a hit through the pandemic,” said Algaze, who hopes to see the alcohol to-go proposal pass. “Any amount of dollars that come through the door will help.”


Selling drinks with about a fifth of Iron Rooster’s carryout orders has offered a way to help recoup some of the lost dine-in sales, Algaze said. And it helps offset pandemic safety expenses — air filtration systems, cleaning crews and personal protective equipment. In many cases, customers are ordering drinks they would otherwise have had dining in, such as a Mimosa or Bloody Mary, not the bottle of vodka they would buy at a liquor store.

“We’re offering a bit of a different service” from liquor stores, he said.

The Bluebird Cocktail Room & Pub has managed to stay afloat during the pandemic thanks to its bottled Manhattans, Bluebird Old Fashioneds and other cocktails to-go, said Paul Benkert, owner with his wife, Caroline. The Hampden bar is currently open for curbside pickup only.

“For any bar, the majority of sales is going to be what you sell on-premise,” he said. With sales down 80% each month, the bottled cocktails “have been a little bit of a boost at a time when we desperately needed it.”

He’s not sure the proposed bill would help him. Once Benkert can reopen inside, he’ll likely discontinue the burgers and fries menu he’s offering specifically for pickup. And that would mean no alcohol to-go either.