New York Updates Decades-Old Sunday Alcohol Law

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By Patrick Ralph

Sundays in New York City are a popular day for residents to visit local bars and restaurants. Whether it’s going to brunch or watching football, most bars and restaurants are filled to the brim with customers looking to have a few drinks.

Now, residents of the Empire State will be able to get their first drink on Sundays two hours earlier than usual.

Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that permits bars and restaurants across the Empire State to begin selling alcohol at 10:00 AM on Sundays. The new law, which went into effect on Sunday, September 11th, updates the state’s post-prohibition laws from the 1930’s that have prevented bars and restaurants from serving drinks before noon on Sundays.

The law, more commonly referred to as the “Brunch Bill”, was passed by the Assembly and Senate with bipartisan support this past June. The movement gained traction after Governor Cuomo set up a task force designed to initiate reforms of the state’s outdated liquor laws.

“We’ve been trying to fix this law for decades now”, said Jay Holland, Director of Government Affairs for the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association. “It just didn’t make any sense.”

The Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association was the primary lobbying group in getting this legislation passed. According to Holland, recognition by both political parties to reform the state’s 80-plus year-old Sunday alcohol laws was the key to getting the “Brunch Bill” passed.

“A big part of the success was Governor Cuomo leading the charge”, said Holland. “Putting together the task force and having his support was crucial to getting it passed.”

State Senator Patrick Gallivan (R-District 59), a co-sponsor of the law, said that constituents’ newfound awareness of New York’s decades-old alcohol laws pushed the reforms forward.

“Citizens don’t want this outdated law”, said Gallivan. “When it came more into the public eye, constituents thought it was crazy.”

According to Gallivan, whose district falls just outside of Buffalo, the issue came to light when constituents complained that they could not drink alcohol at the bar while watching the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League play a regular season game last season in London.

The NFL routinely schedules games in London every year, all of which kickoff at 9:30 AM Sunday mornings on the East Coast. Under New York’s original law, fans were not able to order a beer until the game was almost over. Now, fans can get their first drink of the day just after kickoff.

According to Holland, another factor that led to the “Brunch Bill” being signed into law was the growing popularity of soccer matches in the United States. Similar to NFL games in London, most European soccer matches are aired on television early in the morning in the U.S. With the population of soccer fans, many being immigrants from Europe, growing in places like New York City, the interest in watching soccer matches at a pub early in the morning has grown as well.

To accommodate for matches and games that may start before 10:00 AM on Sundays, restaurants and bars outside New York City can apply as many as 12 times for a special permit to sell alcohol as early as 8:00 AM on Sundays, according to Holland.

Ultimately, both Holland and Senator Gallivan acknowledged that the concerns of bar and restaurant owners was most influential in getting the law passed.

“We met with bar and restaurant owners, and they expressed frustration over the current alcohol laws in the state”, said Senator Gallivan. “These updates are something the industry wanted.”

Max Rousselot, a partner at Cafe Du Soleil in Morningside Heights, agreed. “The new law is definitely going to help us, but I’m really interested to see how much it will”, said Rousselot. “Giving customers the opportunity to have beer and wine before noon will open up many possibilities.”

According to Rousselot, soccer matches draw a lot of customers on Sundays to his local French cafe. One of these customers is Jacky Terrasson, who said he is happy about the law change.

“The law was totally bullshit”, said Terrasson, who lives in the neighborhood and comes to brunch every Sunday at Cafe Du Soleil. “I didn’t know about the change until I came in one Sunday, but now you don’t have to necessarily order a coffee born noon anymore.”

But according to Senator Gallivan, the “Brunch Bill” is just one of many initiatives that he and his colleagues are working on to help out businesses in New York.

“There are a lot of impediments to small businesses here in New York”, said Senator Gallivan. “We need to continue cutting regulation and red tape on businesses so that they can succeed. This law is just one step, and we have a lot more work to do.”

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