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State Liquor Board Says Bars Can Reopen as Long as They Partner With a Food Vendor

Dive bars, breweries, wineries, and more can offer drinks to go, if they sell approved food from someone else

1886 Bar’s rustic bar setup, with wooden bar and bottles everywhere.
An upscale cocktail bar
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

A notice sent yesterday by the California Alcoholic Beverage Control board, the governing body behind all things booze and businesses, could pave the way for bars, distilleries, wineries, and breweries to reopen during the current pandemic.

Per the ABC’s fifth notice of regulatory relief, sent last night, standalone alcohol license-holders (that is, not bars inside of restaurants where food is served, that’s a different kind of alcohol license) would be allowed to open once again to sell to-go drinks including cocktails, as long as they partner with someone who does make food — say a licensed caterer, or food truck vendor, or next-door restaurant. Here’s the language:

The Department will allow, on a temporary basis, licensees that do not operate kitchen facilities and do not prepare bona fide meals on the licensed premises to partner with businesses that do offer meals (“meal provider”) to sell bona fide meals in conjunction with to-go containers of alcoholic beverages

In short: Anyone currently running a dive bar that doesn’t sell food is allowed to reopen immediately under the ABC’s new guidance, so long as they partner with someone who prepares food for them. Drinkers would still need to purchase food in order to get access to the alcohol as well (no buying just cocktails), and the vendors would need to be licensed to operate locally and at the state level, so no unlicensed street vendors at this time (they’re still banned right now in Los Angeles anyway because of the coronavirus quarantine). The bars and breweries would also ultimately be responsible for securing payment from and confirming the age of the end user, as underage drinking has jumped now that places are selling cocktails to go.

The ABC’s new notice comes at an interesting time statewide, as the board also moves to open sidewalks and other public space to drinking in an effort to keep businesses alive while also promoting social distancing and outdoor dining to help quell the spread of COVID-19. Some places, like Solvang in Santa Barbara County, have considered closing its entire main street so that diners can eat and drink safely outdoors.

Yesterday’s notice means that bars can open immediately, and would be treated like any restaurant as long as they follow the rules, a rep for the ABC said in a follow-up email to Eater. What’s more, counties like San Diego and Ventura that have reopened for dine-in service can also allow patrons to sit inside of bars, provided those bars follow the same guidelines in offering food. The full guidelines can be found here.