By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – It all started with a Manhattan to-go drink. Now, alcohol to-go sales in Colorado may be here to stay, at least for a few more years.

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A bill that passed the House and Senate would extend sales of drinks to-go between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight. Drinks would be limited to one bottle of wine, a liter of spirits or 12 pack of beer.

Last year was the first-time restaurants and bars in Colorado were allowed to sell to-go alcohol as a way of helping them survive the COVID-19 shutdown. The sales kept places like the Englewood Grand afloat during the pandemic.

Erika Zierke and her husband Phil opened the tavern five and a half years ago, investing their life savings. She says they nearly lost it all during the pandemic.

“I mean we hung on by skin of our teeth,” Zierke said.

Erika Zierke (credit CBS)

While the rattle of a cocktail shaker has returned, along with the faces of regulars and a flicker of recovery, if not for an emergency order by the governor allowing to-go alcohol, she says, they wouldn’t have made it.

“It paid our rent more than one month,” she explained.

But, the order was only temporary. So, when Sen. Jeff Bridges stopped by for a Manhattan to-go one night, Zierke gave him an idea to go with it – an alcohol to-go bill.

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“And I said you know, ‘People really like this, is there a way to continue this beyond the pandemic?'”

Bridges didn’t need convincing.

“And I went, ‘You know what Erika, I think there might be.'”

He passed a law last July extending alcohol to-go for one year. His new bill extends it five more years.

“We shut them down and we did that to keep people safe. We had to do it. It was the right thing to do,” said Bridges. “But because we did that to these bars and restaurants, I think we have an obligation to do whatever we can to help them come out the other end.”

The bill would also continue outdoor dining and drinking in entertainment districts. Zierke says that has also been a huge help.

“So you can block off sections of a city block and have people walking around with their drinks and going from place to place and listening to music, live bands on the street,” she said.

“It’s not on its own going to keep these folks afloat,” says Bridges, “This gives them just a little bit of help.”

Sen. Jeff Bridges (credit CBS)

A little bit of help that could go a long way says Zierke.

“We’re trying to make up for a year or more of lost ground. We need every tool we can get to rebuild our business,” she said.

The bill passed the House unanimously and the Senate with only one no vote. It was amended in the Senate to extend to-go sales for two more years instead of five so the two chambers will need to reconcile the differences before the bill heads to the governor’s desk.

Senator Bridges says he is confident that will happen.

Shaun Boyd