Philly food and drink scene

Fishtown Iced Teas will be available once to-go cocktails are legal

The temporary rules change would be a lifeline for bars and restaurants.

Classic Fishtown Iced Tea at Interstate Drafthouse

Classic Fishtown Iced Tea at Interstate Drafthouse

Instagram / @spazzaferro

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Update: On May 21, Gov. Wolf signed into law what’s now known as Act 21 of 2020. Find a list of Philly bars offering to-go cocktails here.

To-go cocktails may become temporarily legal in Pennsylvania. As of May 18, the bill to make it happen was on Governor Tom Wolf’s desk. On Tuesday, he indicated he’d sign it…eventually.

For Philly bars and restaurants, it can’t come soon enough.

“As soon as it becomes legal, we’ll put it online,” said Michael McCloskey, co-owner of Interstate Drafthouse, which sells what he calls “the city’s most recognizable mixed drink”: Fishtown Iced Tea.

McCloskey, who said the bar sells about 350 iced teas a week during normal times, hopes to hit 100 or so weekly orders from quarantined fans.

The pandemic has created nightmare scenarios for the hospitality industry, with at least 80% of Pa. restaurant workers out of a job. Many food and drink establishments count on booze for the majority of their profit, but so far they’ve only been allowed to offer beer and wine, same as during normal times.

Interstate Drafthouse has rehired six staffers since it reopened with to-go food two weeks ago. They’re hoping to bring more back to the payroll soon — a requirement of the tavern’s PPP loan.

“The iced teas will help a lot,” McCloskey said. “Everyone keeps asking for them.”

Fishtown Iced Tea orders for pickup will include the iconic Arctic Splash carton container, filled with ice, and a wrapped straw on the side. The alcohol mix itself will come in a separate pint container, sealed with a lid.

Interstate Drafthouse's to-go pickup window

Interstate Drafthouse's to-go pickup window

Courtesy Michael McCloskey

Unprecedented support from elected officials

“Sealed” containers are one of the requirements in the pending legislation, which says that could be as simple as a soda cup top with the hole taped over.

The bill also limits the size of drinks sold to between 4 oz. and 64 oz. and restricts purveyors to spots holding an “R” or “H” liquor license (i.e. no private clubs). Sales would only be valid during the state’s current “disaster emergency” and mitigation period that follows, i.e. the “red” and “yellow” phases in Wolf’s reopening plan.

The governor hasn’t offered any hints as to whether he plans to sign HB 327 — but it’s obvious the effort has a ton of support.

In a state known for arcane liquor laws, few pieces of booze-related legislation moved as quickly as this one. The Pa. House passed the bill on April 29 with an overwhelming vote of 193 to 9, and the Pa. Senate followed with unanimous passage exactly two weeks later.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is one of the backers.

“I see no reason why a jug of margaritas or a jug of cosmopolitans wouldn’t help both the bar and restaurant owner and the person getting the order,” Kenney said on Thursday. “Businesses will get more revenue…those folks are suffering.”

The city, which is facing a half-billion dollar deficit, also stands to get an influx of revenue, thanks to the 10% liquor-by-the-drink tax that helps fund Philly schools.

Supply chain disruptions meant getting Fishtown Iced Teas back on the menu wasn’t an easy task.

Arctic Splash, the key ingredient, was temporarily impossible to order because Lehigh Valley Dairy, the Dean Foods subsidiary that produces the iced tea-flavored drink, had pivoted to focus only on milk production, McCloskey said. It starts shipping again today after a several-month hiatus, and Interstate Draft House is getting one of the first shipments.

“We included some for [Anne’s Place] deli down the street,” McCloskey added. “She hasn’t been able to get it.”

Visit this link for a list of all the bars and restaurants in Philadelphia offering drinks to go.

Want some more? Explore other Philly food and drink scene stories.

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