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COVID-19 mixed-drink kits may never go away but you can order an honest to goodness cocktail again on Capitol Hill — to go

Elaborate cocktail kits might survive COVID-19 but craft cocktails (to go!) are ready for a comeback

With reporting by Alex Garland

The days of take-home kits born during the COVID-19 restrictions will probably never really die but you can once again order an honest to goodness craft cocktail on Capitol Hill — as long as it is served with an order that includes food, comes sealed in “a container with a secure lid or cap and in a manner designed to prevent consumption without removal of the lid or cap” and, if you’re talking about a transaction involving a delivery car, is placed “beyond the immediate reach of the driver.”

This week, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board relented and said it would allow the state’s hard-hit food and drink industry to begin serving “pre-mixed” cocktails for takeout and delivery. You can find a few Capitol Hill venues that have already jumped on the opportunity, sometimes taking creative measures to comply with requirements with supplies on hand. At 14th Ave’s Nue that means a sealed pack of Paloma to go:

Capitol Hill restaurants and bars have been making a go of it on the booze end of things with — sometimes elaborate — cocktail kits. Poquitos general manager Liz Elkins was behind a plexiglass window at the main entrance to serve a line of customers waiting for take out. Their $55 Margarita Party Pack has “everything you need to make your own Poquitos Margarita. “A liter of El Jimador, 32 ounces of sour mix, lime, salt, and a recipe, so you basically have everything you need for margaritas for about 16 people,” she said. There’s a 200 ml bottle with enough margaritas for four, and that’s $24 and the single margarita — served with a sealed mini bottle of tequila, was $7. Breaking the seal an pouring your own margarita isn’t the worst — it feels a little like you are in an airplane instead of under quarantine. But having somebody mix together a drink on your behalf? If you imbibe, that’s living.

The change comes with Washington beginning what could be a multiple-month phased reopening of its economy. Inside the nation’s terrible unemployment numbers and the state’s contribution to the waves of unemployed, Washington’s bartenders have emerged as a shocking datapoint: 14,800 initial unemployment claims by bartenders were filed in the state — 16 more than Washington’s estimated bartender workforce.

Restaurant and bar businesses, already slammed by weeks of restrictions, now face a slow, regulated climb back to more normal operations. The state’s next phase of loosened restrictions due to arrive — hopefully — in June will return the venues to allowing sit down customers but “restaurants/taverns” must operate at less than 50% capacity, with a maximum table size no larger than five people, and with no “bar area seating” allowed.

Even if the math works, the space restrictions might not — especially for the Hill’s remaining booze-first bars like E Olive Way’s Revolver.

“That won’t even pay for my bartenders,” owner Gary Reynolds says of the idea of reopening at reduced capacity.

“There are times when it is slow, sure,” Reynolds said. “You make your money when you have your busy nights.”

A bar reduced to a few sparse tables?

“The thing about it is, nobody wants to go to an empty bar,” Reynolds said. “You want to go to a bar where there’s like 10 people?”

Allowing to-go cocktails won’t do much to address the draw of a fully or even half-empty bar — especially if Cal Anderson is now closed after 8 PM. But it will help venues already open for takeout and delivery to boost their sales and it should help some bars where mixology is the big draw move back into motion. One example? Eater reports 12th Ave’s cocktail palace Canon is getting ready to reopen for takeout and delivery and preparation for the next phase of the recovery.

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