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How One Chicago Bartender Led the Fight for Cocktails To-Go

As bars and restaurants closed their doors in spring 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, many cities and states quickly passed legislation to allow to-go cocktail sales from on-premise establishments. Yet Illinois, one of the country’s most populous states and home to one of the country’s most vibrant drinking and dining scenes, stood firm. When one bartender and business owner didn’t find any resources to help push for change, she decided to become that instigator herself, successfully leading a grassroots campaign to pass a bill through the state’s legislature.

The Legislative Fight
Julia Momose, the creative director of Kumiko as well as a partner in the bar, quickly sprang to create a grassroots movement encouraging Illinois to adopt legislation in support of to-go cocktails. Called Cocktails for Hope, the organization’s Change.org petition had garnered more than 13,000 signatures as of June 15.

“I said to myself, all right, nobody is doing anything, so I have to do something,” says Momose. The petition began accumulating signatures as Momose reached out to others in Chicago’s bar and restaurant industries, spreading word of the movement via email and social media. The effort led to an introduction with Sean O’Leary, a Chicago lawyer experienced with liquor legislation. “We started pushing hard and lobbying, just the two of us sending out letters to everyone we could think of,” she says.

The duo garnered the attention of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, though, at the time, neither its approval nor that of governor J.B. Pritzker. Bars were allowed to sell growlers of beer but not the premixed cocktails Momose sought to sell, among other legislative inconsistencies. “It had been frustrating, but I understand,” says Momose. “He has a lot more that he’s dealing with.” But she didn’t succumb to those frustrations and end her fight. Instead, with the help of O’Leary and the backing of her partners at Kumiko, she redoubled her efforts and rounded up more support

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