A Spirited Solution: Hochul’s Revised Budget Legalizes To-Go Alcohol and Full Liquor for Movie Theaters
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A Spirited Solution: Hochul’s Revised Budget Legalizes To-Go Alcohol and Full Liquor for Movie Theaters

Posted By: Alexandra Becker

After extensive debate, the New York state Senate and Assembly finished working through the state's several budget bills over the weekend, nearly 3 weeks beyond the April 1 deadline. The spending plan now goes to Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk to be signed into law, which could happen as soon as later this week.

Relevant measures in the revised budget include legalizing the sale of to-go alcohol for another five years as well as an expansion of the types of alcohol permitted to be sold in movie theaters. These actions are a continuation of Governor Hochul’s previously stated commitment to expand and modernize New York’s laws governing alcoholic beverages. 

To-Go Alcohol:

Earlier this year, in the draft budget, Governor Hochul announced her intentions to more permanently legalize the sale of alcohol by restaurants for takeout and delivery, as a means of replacing the temporary legislation permitting the same that was included in her 2023 budget, which was set to expire next year.

The temporary legislation itself was essentially a revival of a COVID-era Executive Order when New York became one of 39 states temporarily allowing the sale of alcohol to go at the height of pandemic shutdowns. This proved to be a lifeline for the restaurant industry across the country, which was absolutely devastated, first by COVID-related lockdowns and then the subsequent worker shortage combined with rampant increases in food costs.   

Both the New York restaurant industry and the public were frustrated when the Executive Order was allowed to expire in 2021, and a standalone bill with respect to alcohol to-go was introduced in the State Assembly but failed to pass. The enactment of the temporary legislation was greeted with great enthusiasm, though concerns abounded about whether measures would be taken to permanently legalize the practice before its expiration. 

Though not a permanent legalization, the proposal in the budget would legalize the practice for five years. There was some opposition to the idea of permanent legalization of to-go alcohol, primarily from liquor store owners concerned that it would cut into their sales. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers surveyed, however, have been strongly in favor of the concept. The current legislation does not permit customers to purchase full bottles of wine or spirits to-go, thus further protecting the interests of liquor stores. It also requires that any cocktail or glass of wine purchased to-go be sealed in some way, such as with a lid or a cap, and that customers purchase a “substantial” food item with to-go alcohol. 

Sale of Spirits in Movie Theaters:

Despite being permitted at sporting events, concerts, plays and other live entertainment venues and events for many years, the sale of alcohol in movie theaters has historically been severely restricted in New York. Up until 2022, movie theaters were limited to either selling beer and wine for pre-movie consumption in a specifically delineated area outside of the theater itself or they could elect to be licensed as a restaurant with a much higher food requirement and have servers deliver beer and wine to customers at tables inside the theater. 

In a 2022 declaratory ruling, the New York State Liquor Authority held that movie theaters could apply for a license to sell beer, wine and cider for on-premises consumption so long as they met certain criteria. This ruling allowed sale of individual servings of wine, beer and cider- but not spirits- for patrons to consume in the theater itself, without the requirement that they be seated at a table. While this development was overwhelmingly hailed as positive, many still questioned why full liquor was not permitted. 

The changes in the budget announced this weekend include expanding the types of alcohol permitted to be sold in movie theaters to include full liquor. In order to assuage concerns about maintaining a family-friendly atmosphere and making sure that movie theaters do not become raucous late-night venues, the proposal contains a number of restrictions unique to this type of venue. Specifically, each movie theater customer is limited to purchasing one alcoholic beverage per transaction. Further, the proposal would allow movie theaters to begin selling alcohol no earlier than one hour before the first showing and would require them to stop selling no later than the end of the final showing of the day. 

Contact Whiteman Osterman & Hanna Today

If you have questions regarding the operation of your existing New York licensed business or are contemplating applying for a new license, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Alexandra Becker by e-mail (  or phone (518.487.7725) to see how the Alcoholic Beverage Team at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna may be able to assist.

Tags:   To-Go Alcohol / NYS Liquor Authority / NY SLA /