On July 21, Governor Jared Polis created an executive order mandating a 10 p.m. last call on alcohol — at bars, restaurants, liquor stores and all other establishments holding liquor licenses. The new regulation is set to run for thirty days — starting today, July 23 — provided there is no increase in COVID-19 cases over the next thirty days.
The order isn't sitting well with business owners or the organizations that support them. In fact, the Colorado Restaurant Association, EatDenver (a network of independent restaurant groups) and the Tavern League of Colorado have banded together to send an official objection to the restriction, and any further action that limits the ability of restaurants and bars to do business.
"Normally in our state, last call is two in the morning. Now it's going to be 10 p.m. statewide," Polis said in making the announcement. "Inebriation in public places is inconsistent with social distancing."
Stephanie Fransen Hicks, executive director of the Tavern League, says that bars and restaurants have borne the economic brunt of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting business restrictions while maintaining safe and healthy environments for customers.
"We are extremely disappointed with the action Governor Polis took," Hicks says. "Restaurants and bars have gone above and beyond to keep both employees and patrons safe, and continue to aggressively follow all health and safety guidelines. In fact, we believe the data from the state actually affirms strong industry compliance with regulatory requirements and the safety of gathering in our facilities at any time. We have yet to see any data that supports this type of drastic action. This week’s decision is an unwarranted blow to an industry already struggling to survive. You will see additional business attrition statewide should this order remain in place."
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Here's the letter that the three organizations sent to Polis on July 21:
Dear Governor Polis:
On behalf of the Colorado Restaurant Association, EatDenver, and the Tavern League of Colorado, we
would like to thank you for your leadership during this difficult time. We are reaching out to continue
the dialogue with you about this industry and to express some concerns that we have.
First, although other states have targeted bars and restaurants as sources of COVID-19 spread, this is not
the case in Colorado. According to the CDPHE COVID-19 weekly report dated 7/15/2020, restaurants
only account for about 30 of the state’s 414 documented outbreak sites – and the number of cases
reported in those locations is 153, only about 4% of all positive cases of “staff who are positive for
COVID-19 (lab confirmed)” and only .3% of overall positive cases. Furthermore, there have been zero
reported cases of restaurant and bar customers.
When we spoke on the phone yesterday, you implied that there may be a correlation between food and
drink establishments that offer alcohol and a larger possibility for the spread of COVID-19 with alcohol
consumption. We believe that your own website’s outbreak data proves this is a false correlation.
Nearly half of the cases listed originated in fast food restaurants that do not typically hold a liquor
In our conversation yesterday, you implied that an industry curfew may be considered as an option to
mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We do not believe that this will be an effective solution. We have
heard countless times from your office and CDPHE that social distancing, the use of masks, limited public
gatherings, and frequent handwashing are the most effective way to stop the spread. These guidelines
are already being practiced by restaurants across the state, and our low outbreak case numbers show
how effective the industry has been at limiting the spread. Limiting guests to a smaller window of
business hours will only serve to increase crowding as people who would have patronized a business
later in the evening are forced to come in earlier.
The bar and restaurant industry has suffered catastrophic damage due to COVID-19. These businesses
need to remain open in order to regain the financial losses of the past four months, and we believe that
they have already demonstrated their willingness to comply with state and local guidelines to keep their
customers and patrons safe and remain open. Many have even take additional steps to further promote
safe practices within their business. For example, a large majority of operators enforced a mandatory
mask requirement prior to last week’s Public Health Order. It is also important to point out that during
the July 4th weekend, the Liquor Enforcement Division conducted approximately 570 inspections of
restaurants and bars across the state. Only seven came back needing additional education on current
public health regulations. All licensees were cooperative and have since made the necessary
We strongly believe that restaurants are already on the right track to limit the spread of COVID-19, and
further restrictions on this industry are not necessary. We welcome dialogue and would like to be a
resource for you and your office as you continue to discuss this industry.
Sonia Riggs, President & CEO
Colorado Restaurant Association
Katie Lazor, Executive Director
Stephanie Fransen Hicks, Executive Director
Tavern League of Colorado
In normal times, bars generally issue last call fifteen minutes or so before 2 a.m. to make sure all drinks are off the table when the clock strikes two (and late-night patrons are well aware of "bar time," so most get their final orders in accordingly). There has been confusion already about last call and when drinks should be poured and finished, but the general agreement is that orders can be placed right up until 10 p.m. and customers will be able to finish before leaving, especially if food orders are involved, since establishments can stay open later to serve food.
The new to-go liquor law, which was extended until July 2021 by the General Assembly and signed into law on July 10, will certainly come in handy for folks who want to take drinks with them and keep the party rolling at home past 10 p.m.