Owner Dan Talmatch makes a to-go Watermelon Martini at The North Point in Portland on Tuesday. Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation to permanently allow restaurants and bars in Maine to serve to-go cocktails, as well as beer and wine by the glass. The to-go drinks must be accompanied by a hot or cold meal. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The pandemic-era law that allowed Maine restaurants, bars, tasting rooms and distilleries to sell to-go cocktails has been made permanent.

The new law, which Gov. Janet Mills signed Monday and took effect immediately, extends to-go sales to beer and wine by the glass. The drinks must be sold in sealed containers that include the seller’s liquor license number and the time of the order. As with the law it replaced, it requires that to-go drinks be accompanied by a food order. A change? That food order must be a hot or cold meal, not merely snacks.

“During the pandemic, that was our lifeline,” said Briana Volk, who owns cocktail bar Portland Hunt + Alpine Club on Market Street with her husband, Andrew Volk. “We weren’t open until everyone on our staff was vaccinated. We weren’t open for more than a year. To be able to sell to-go cocktails was the only reason we’re still here, honestly.

“To-go sales have still been pretty vibrant,” she continued. “I don’t have the exact numbers, but definitely enough for us to want to keep the program going. It’s nice to see Maine recognize how important this is for small businesses.”

The original measure came in the form of an executive order from the governor in March 2020. As bars and restaurants reeled from the instant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the law offered one way to help them survive. It has been extended twice, in 2020, and again in 2022. Advocates to make the law permanent argued that restaurants and bars are still coping with the lingering aftereffects of the pandemic, as well as inflation and labor shortages. Having the additional revenue stream, they said, aids their continued recovery. Maine is the 19th state to adopt such a law.

Public health advocates countered that making to-go alcohol sales permanent would contribute to binge drinking and drunken driving.


The bill was sponsored by Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Somerset and has been promoted by trade group HospitalityMaine since the start of the pandemic. “There are a lot more important issues facing the state of Maine,” he said Tuesday, “but this was an important one to the hospitality industry.” He noted that the bill had widespread bipartisan support.

A Watermelon Martini made to go at The North Point in Portland.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Like Volk, Caleb Landry, creative director at Blyth & Burrows in the Old Port, said state authorization to sell to-go cocktails in the early months of the pandemic “kept us alive, frankly.”

Even before the pandemic, the bar had begun experimenting with crafting bottled, carbonated cocktails. When COVID-19 hit, the drinks were packaged and ready to go, he said. “We leaned in, and now it’s an integral part of our program.”

During the slow season, he said, Blyth & Burrows staff bottles 500 to 800 of the carbonated cocktails each week, available both to drink at the bar or to take to go. In the summer, that number climbs to as many as 1,000 per week.


This month, to-go sales were probably just 1% of liquor sales, Landry said, but he expected that percentage to increase come summer.  “At the end of the day, (to-go drinks) give people access to more options if they want it, and I think that’s part of the hospitality for us.”


Barkeeps and restaurateurs reported that customers order drinks to go after a meal, say an espresso martini from The North Point in the Old Port to take back to their home or hotel room for a nightcap. People stop by Hunt + Alpine on their way to picnics or beach house rentals to pick up the bar’s shelf-stable to-go cocktails. Volk said the bar’s recipes had to be overhauled so that the cocktails would travel and hold well. “Our goal is to have them taste the same when you get home as if you were drinking here,” she said.

For some, eating in a crowded dining room isn’t yet comfortable, so an order of to-go cocktails “gives them access to a closer to going-out-to-eat experience,” said Nicholas Nappi, chef/co-owner of Black Cow Burgers & Fries in the Old Port.

CarHop drivers often deliver to-go cocktails, said Thomas Brems, president of the Portland-based company, which delivers food and alcohol from Boston to Bangor. While he didn’t have exact figures at his fingertips, the orders themselves rolled off his tongue. “At Bird + Co., they get margaritas with their tacos. At Boda, it’s the Thai Basil Tom Collins.” Food deliveries from Empire and Chaval often come with cocktails, he added. “All types of places.”

“I’m happy that the restaurants are able to still tap into that extra revenue,” he continued. “I think people really love it. It’s part of our business and important to us, too. Other states have been doing it and it just makes sense for the restaurants.

Many restaurants and cocktail bars in Portland reported that, although sales of to-go cocktails contribute far less to the bottom line than they did early in the pandemic, they’re still pleased the option to continue to sell them is now certain.

“It’s nice that it’s going to be permanent,” said Dan Talmatch, proprietor of The North Point. “It’s still a good business item for us. Going forward, it’s not going to be a deal-breaker for us whether we have it or not. But I’m certainly happy to have it.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story