With three days remaining, boozy Sunday brunch bill awaits action

By 8 a.m. this Sunday, restauranteurs and bar owners are hoping that their ability to legally sell Bloody Marys, mimosas and beers at that early hour are just a gubernatorial signature away.

Legislation that would tweak New York’s arcane alcohol laws to allow restaurants and bars to begin serving booze at 8 a.m. on Sundays seems to be a relatively easy lift for state lawmakers compared to other proposals that have stalled.

But with three days remaining for negotiation this legislative session, would supporters take a start time later than 8 a.m.?

“Our rationale has been Sunday really is no different than the rest of the days of the week for the vast majority of the population,” said Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Tavern and Restaurant Association. “Anything less than 8 o’clock would obviously be a product of a negotiated process. We’re not part of that negotiation, so thankfully we don’t have to take a position on that.”

The idea is that 8 a.m. sales not only would capture early weekend risers, but would open up bars and restaurants to more business for, say, overseas soccer matches or professional football (the American kind) games in London.

On Monday evening, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie signaled that a compromise may be nigh on the so-called brunch bill — pending state Senate sign-off, of course — though he did not elaborate on where the Assembly’s Democratic Majority stands on what time alcohol sales would be allowed to start.

There has been a hang-up in the Assembly as multiple iterations of the legislation have been proposed. When an 8 a.m. sales bill got stuck in the Assembly Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry Committee, backers snuck around the roadblock by amending a different version of the legislation already cleared for a vote on the floor to allow 8 a.m. sales.

Broad updates to alcohol laws, including passage of the brunch bill, are on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s list of end-of-session priorities (two of which — increasing access to breast cancer screenings and treatment and improving safety at rail crossings — already have been completed). A larger omnibus package of booze bills would largely slash red tape on the production and distribution end of the alcohol business.

An omnibus package or a standalone brunch bill would represent a nice political victory as the Legislature grapples with thornier issues like ride-sharing and daily fantasy sports legalization. Not only would lawmakers be able to make the pitch to consumers that they scored a law that benefits them, but early alcohol sales on Sunday also will appease restauranteurs.

“We’re an industry that works on nickels and dimes,” said Evan Christou, owner of Tops American Grill, Bakery and Bar in Schenectady.  “For many of us, breakfast is a very large portion of our revenue, especially on Saturday morning and Sunday morning. If that is my highest volume meal period and one in 10 choose to have a mimosa or a Bloody Mary — we’re not forcing it on anybody but they have that opportunity to make their own choice.”

Here’s video of Monday’s press conference on the brunch bill at Olde English Pub in Albany, courtesy Kyle Hughes of NYSNYS.com: