In a sudden reversal for restaurants and bars across Pennsylvania on Tuesday, June 15, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced the end of pandemic permissions that allowed establishments to sell to-go cocktails and provide expanded outdoor seating. After the Republican-controlled state House and Senate voted to limit Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s disaster emergency declaration powers, and PA voters backed the decision in the May election, Wolf’s pandemic restaurant protections — including takeout cocktails and expanded outdoor dining rules — are no longer in effect.
The PLCB sent a letter to restaurants and bars on Tuesday announcing pre-pandemic regulations are back in effect immediately. In a statement, the PLCB wrote, “The Pennsylvania House and Senate have already voted to terminate the current disaster emergency declaration. Therefore, now that the vote on the constitutional amendment is certified, the emergency declarations that have been in effect since March 6, 2020, will no longer be valid.”
Shawn Kelly, press secretary for the PLCB, tells Eater, “The measures that were put in place were tied to the emergency declaration. When the emergency declaration ended, the permissions that were granted also ended.” Whether this decision will counteract the positive boost takeout cocktails and outdoor dining provided to ailing restaurants during the pandemic, Kelly says he couldn’t speak to that. “What I can say is that the PLCB follows the law.”
Because the PLCB is not itself an enforcement agency, it’s up to the Pennsylvania State Police Liquor Control Enforcement Board to enforce these pre-pandemic rules again, though it’s unclear how soon enforcement will take place. Warmer weather means restaurants have been expanding — not shrinking — their outdoor dining setups, and to-go cocktails were on track, as last year, to become a Philly summer staple. Post-pandemic, sales of to-go cocktails could have had longterm positive impacts on establishments recouping finances from a year-plus loss of income.
“Licensees that wish to continue to use these outside areas will need to immediately file an application to extend their licensed premises to include those areas, along with the appropriate fee,” the PLCB statement to restaurants and bars reads. “A decision on whether to allow the use of those areas during the pendency of the application will be made on a case-by-case basis.”
In response to the PLCB announcement, Gov. Wolf issued a statement urging the PA Legislature to pass HB 1154, a bill intended to keep permissions for to-go cocktails in place. “I support memorializing this relief for bars and restaurants by making cocktails-to-go permanent,” Wolf said, though there was no word on whether Wolf supported the expanded pandemic outdoor dining permissions. “I strongly urge the Senate to support Pennsylvania’s bars, restaurants and hotels by sending a clean bill to my desk today.”