As anticipated for many months, Governor Gavin Newsom signed three bills on Friday, October 8, finally officially putting cocktails to go into state law. Selling takeout cocktails and serving alcohol in parklets are now here to stay in California, at least for the next five years. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Senator Scott Wiener joined the governor for a small press conference at Oakland’s Kingston 11, the Jamaican restaurant known for jerk chicken and rum punch. There Newsom signed three key bills affecting cocktails and parklets: State Bill 389, State Bill 314, and Assembly Bill 61.
“Eat your heart out, Paris,” the governor said, referring to everyone who’s enjoyed a glass of wine in a parklet recently. “All across the state, it’s like, why haven’t we done this 20, 30, 40 years ago? And the biggest fear and anxiety all of us had … was please don’t take all of this away. So that’s what these bills represent.”
The first of the three bills, State Bill 389, focused on cocktails to go. Takeout cocktails started as a temporary emergency order in March 2020, allowing restaurants and bars to sell to-go wine, beer, and cocktails, provided the drinks were served with food. When California fully reopened in June 2021, many restaurants and bars were left with considerable debt from the pandemic and wondered whether they could continue to count on those additional drink sales. At that time, Newsom extended the temporary emergency order through the end of the year to allow more time for two key bills to move through the state legislature.
“Three years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible,” Newsom said in an exclusive interview with Eater SF. “There would have been debate after debate, it would have been hard getting something out of committee.” But following the pandemic and proof of concept, “These [bills] were a breeze. Because people have now seen with their own eyes the benefits of extending the footprint of these businesses, not just to these [restaurants and bars], but to the communities.”
The bill, which Senator Bill Dodd (Napa) introduced in February 2021, has gone through several iterations, and the final version only extends cocktails to go through December 31, 2026 — so for the next five years, but not quite forever. And it continues the contentious requirement that all drinks must still be sold with a “bona fide meal,” cutting out bars that don’t serve food. It also limits customers to two drinks per meal — so no more big-batch cocktails — and limits cocktails to pickup only, completely cutting out delivery. So while it was originally hailed as a pandemic innovation, bar owners have expressed bitter disappointment at the restrictions.
The governor also signed State Bill 314, which Senator Scott Wiener introduced in February 2021, proposing to ease restrictions on outdoor dining, which would not only make parklets permanent but also make serving alcohol in parklets easier. That bill is on a different timeline, running through July 1, 2024, so only for the next three years. The governor also signed companion bill AB 61, making it easier for pop-ups to get temporary liquor licenses.
Most industry experts expected that Governor Newsom would ink the deal. Before going into government, Newsom was the founder of the PlumpJack Winery group, which includes Balboa Cafe, White Rabbit, and Wildhawk bars in San Francisco, and reiterated that he is “pro-restaurants, pro-small businesses.” When asked if he was disappointed by the amendments, the governor maintained that takeout cocktails will continue to benefit restaurants and bars, in terms of providing an additional revenue stream. But he acknowledged the frustration of many bar owners. “Listen, we were able to do what we were able to do,” Newsom says, implying that per his original emergency order, he wanted to include all bars. However, “There were legitimate concerns about serving alcohol off-premise … the restrictions are fair.”
The governor also recently signed a couple of other bills related to restaurants including State Bill 286, which originally proposed a permanent cap on delivery fees, but ultimately only demanded more transparency on fees. Newsom says he’s still open to a permanent cap and hopes the legislature will iterate. But he did not bash big tech, also calling delivery apps “game-changers,” and adding that he has “reverence and respect” for tech leaders in California, specifically his longtime friend Elon Musk, who announced he’s moving headquarters to Texas this week. The governor also signed the AB 1276, known as the Ketchup Packet Bill, so diners now have to request single-squeeze condiments, in an effort to reduce waste. “Straws, plastics, takeout containers, often are bigger than they appear in the rearview mirror,” the governor says. “You might be surprised.”
It does not, however, sound like the governor plans to be celebrating the signing of these bills at the French Laundry. He says he’s been drinking a little more these days but has not been dining out at all, not even to order takeout cocktails. “I have not been out,” he says. “I have four young kids. I look forward every week to taco night. That’s the most exciting night of the week.”