One for the Road?
Restaurants and bars finalizing plans for cocktails-to-go in two weeks
The official and legal start date for Oklahoma’s new cocktails-to-go law is Wednesday, Aug. 25. While
the general public has been excited about the change, restaurants — still reeling from COVID issues as
the delta variant marches across the state — are hopeful it will increase revenue. However, there are still
unresolved issues about the process that have caused some bars and restaurants to proceed cautiously.
Citing concerns over issues of liability, a representative of Hal Smith Restaurant Group said the company
will not be launching a cocktails-to-go program on or even close to the date. The liability question is the
primary concern getting batted about as the date approaches. Steven Barker, general counsel and
deputy director of the ABLE Commission, said issues of liability aren’t the role of ABLE.
The liability question is pretty clear: if a bar or restaurant serves a customer a cocktail to go, and the
customer is intoxicated and gets in an accident, is the bar or restaurant liable? The legal issues are
complex, and while the Dram Shop Laws, as they’re known in legalese, is clear for liquor stores and
alcohol served on premises, cocktails-to-go represents new legal territory. The Oklahoma Restaurant
Association, which did not respond to repeated requests for a comment, will be addressing the question
for members at a seminar during their annual food expo on August 18 and 19.
Others are excited about the launch and have plans already in place. Julia McLish, owner of popular
Midtown bar and retail store Barkeep Supply said she’ll have three cocktails ready on Aug. 25. “We’ll
have two of our ‘favorites’ menu, as well as one classic cocktail,” McLish said. “We’re going with a glass,
pint bottle, so customers will get about three cocktails per bottle. We have a designer working on custom
labels right now.”
Bailey Butler, co-owner of Palo Santo in the Farmers Market District, said the popular bar will not be
making cocktails to go for a few reasons. “We lobbied for this during the shutdown when it would have
really helped us, but it was denied. It feels a bit too little, too late at this point, and we haven’t seen
enough demand that we would take on what feels like a side project while dealing with the day-to-day of
our quickly growing business.”
Barker did announce this week that canning cocktails on-site by means of a Crowler system — like the
ones breweries use — will satisfy the packaging and tamper-evident lid requirements, meaning aluminum cans have now been added to the approved materials list with rigid plastic and glass. So-called ready-to-
drink (RTD) cocktails, made out of state and shipped into Oklahoma via the distribution networks, will not be legal though.