More than a dozen local bars, restaurants and other boozy establishments have applied for or expressed interest in new licenses to serve carryout cocktails as the summer begins in Lansing.
And officials expect some are only a few weeks away from letting the sidewalk sipping begin.
The Lansing City Council and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission approved plans last month to launch three designated “social districts” in which up to 33 local bars and restaurants could then apply for permits that would enable them to serve to-go cocktails that can later be consumed on designated sidewalks, parks, alleys and portions of the Lansing River Trail.
About a dozen businesses have submitted applications to the Liquor Control Commission over the last two weeks while city officials pull together the final stages of a plan that began last year. Many businesses owners expect to start serving up to-go cocktails, wine and beer by mid-June.
“It’s a cool way for everyone to get back out again and walk between some of our local bars,” said Courtney Prins, engagement and events coordinator at Lansing Brewing Co., which expects to offer reusable bottles for a variety of carryout drinks as early as next week. “We’re hoping to be able to coordinate some things with other businesses offering it this summer too.”
Within the three new districts, customers can purchase specially marked to-go containers from participating businesses and either stay to enjoy them on the patio or meander off down the sidewalks in the summer sun. The marked zones include Rotary and Scott parks, Jackson Field and portions of the Lansing River Trail, the Cooley Gardens and the Scott Sunken Gardens.
Under the city’s ordinance, to-go containers can be served until 10 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday or until midnight Friday and Saturday. Leashed dogs are allowed within the districts. Any tents, lighting and loud speakers will still require additional approvals from the city.
Each district will also be clearly labeled with brightly colored boundary signage. Staff at Downtown Lansing Inc. got creative with the branding. One reads: “The Pint of No Return.”
And this party won’t be BYOB; Open intoxication ordinances on unmarked booze still apply.
MichiGrain Distillery owner Scott Ellis said the ability to serve carryout cocktails — in addition to a new menu of craft beer — will help to drive up sales that dropped 75% amid the pandemic. An expanded patio space will also work cohesively with neighboring Lansing Brewing Co.
“We’re also working on getting some food trucks on site,” Ellis said. “It should be any day now.”
Council President Peter Spadafore was a key proponent in creating the new districts. He said the plans were geared toward expanding capacity for entrepreneurs still stifled amid state restrictions. As those begin to wane, they could also allow bar owners to catch up for lost time.
“Really, the impetus was the pandemic and allowing greater capacity to serve and help keep these businesses afloat. The added benefit is that this creates a gathering destination,” Spadafore said. “It also creates more opportunities for outdoor festivals in places like Old Town.”
Cathleen Edgerly, executive director of Downtown Lansing Inc., said the districts will also allow local watering holes to split the cost of outdoor entertainment, attracting customers to the city in a more socially distant fashion. Similar concepts are in place in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.
The districts dissolve on Dec. 31, 2022, unless the City Council votes to extend the allowance.