Governor makes takeout alcohol sales permanent for Kansas bars, restaurants

Concerns remain over correlation with drunk driving

By: - May 21, 2021 7:37 am

James Lucatero, general manager of Brew Bank, was excited to continue offering customers to-go alcohol for summer activities from the Topeka establishment. He said the option was essential to adapting amid the pandemic. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A new law making the sale of to-go and drive-thru alcohol permanent in Kansas has a Topeka tap house management excited for new possibilities and increased revenue streams.

When the pandemic forced Brew Bank to shut its doors to indoor dining, a temporary allowance of to-go alcohol sales helped offset lost revenue. House Bill 2137, which Gov. Laura Kelly signed on Wednesday, removes the temporary permit for “refillable and sealable containers” ranging from 32 to 64 fluid ounces.

Under past Kansas law, alcohol retailers were only allowed to sell alcohol in the original, unopened container, and only microbreweries could sell refillable and sealable containers.

James Lucatero, general manager of Brew Bank, said this news was perfectly timed with the arrival of warm weather.

“It’s really cool that you can actually go do other things with the summer coming around the corner,” Lucatero said. “You can go camping and still be able to take a small bit of Brew Bank with you.”

The Kansas Legislature approved the bill in March with bipartisan backing as lawmakers hoped to continue the temporary relief for businesses hurt by the pandemic. Establishments will be required to cease the sale of these containers after 11 p.m.

The law also allows liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sundays between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. and on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. Previous law prohibited the sale of alcohol before noon on Sundays.

Lucatero had some additional ideas for how local governments could improve liquor laws beyond the pandemic. One suggestion: allowing people to carry open containers in downtown Topeka when Evergy Plaza reopens.

“When the plaza has concerts, you’d be able to stop by Brew Bank and get a drink,” Lucatero said. “You can just take your beer or your cocktail with you and not have to be confined to being in that one spot. I think that would be huge.”

According to a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association, nearly 1 in 6 restaurants have closed either permanently or long-term, nearly 3 million employees are still out of work, and the industry is on track to lose $240 billion in sales through the end of 2021.

Testimony provided in support of the bill by the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association indicated consumer spending in restaurants had decreased significantly since the onset of the pandemic.

Restaurant and bar owners are hopeful fewer barriers to alcohol sales will allow them to adapt to changing customer habits.

Still, some people remained skeptical of the safety risks associated with the new law. Lucas Renz, a Salina resident, said he had never used the to-go service but worried it could lead to increased drunken driving incidents.

“It depends on the statistics because if it is increasing drunk driving it may present an issue,” Renz said. “But, if it’s under control and there isn’t a correlation, then I can see why they would do that.”

Gov. Laura Kelly signed the bill into law along with bills addressing telemedicine and insurance.

“By expanding certain alcohol licenses and telemedicine opportunities, these bills will support our hospitality industry and continued economic recovery, along with the health and well-being of all Kansans,” Kelly said.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.