There’s a stumbling stone for alcohol service at the Shared Spaces sidewalk seating that’s supposed to kick in Monday ⁠— not one establishment has yet been granted a state permit to serve booze.

Anyone who’s ventured out of the house these last two weeks has probably seen some al fresca outdoor dining on SF sidewalks, and perhaps a few bars offering “to go” alcohol (often with the patrons not necessarily “to go”-ing anywhere). Outdoor table service resumed June 12, a couple days before it was originally scheduled to, and last week the Board of Supervisors approved a variance that would sanction so-called Shared Spaces to allow sidewalk and street seating, and even alcohol service there with the required permit. That’s all supposed to kick in this coming Monday, June 29, but Mission Local noticed a problem — the city of San Francisco had not yet applied for the state variance required from Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to allow outdoor booze service.

“We can’t get our ABC clearance. We can’t get our temporary permit,” Scoma’s owner Mariann Costello told Mission Local. “We’re trying to figure out who dropped the ball.”

Now just five days from the supposed reopening date, SF Weekly reports that those temporary alcohol permits still have not arrived. The paper explains that establishments already permitted for patio alcohol service are totally in the clear, but the Shared Spaces newbies are still awaiting this last-minute approval. Further, San Francisco had only “submitted a letter of intent to apply” for the variance last Friday. Granted, a cursory walk up some bar-heavy streets on a Friday or Saturday happy hour will show you that some watering holes are saying the hell with it, and serving anyway.

Eater SF dives in and explains that restaurants and bars both have to apply for the Shared Spaces permit, and if they want alcohol in the mix, a state permit from the ABC called a Temporary Catering Authorization (TCA) that has more demanding criteria like “a diagram of the proposed outdoor dining area, and proof that the outdoor drinking spot has the OK of local law enforcement.” The ABC permits are in effect until the end of the state of emergency orders, the local Shared Spaces permits are currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2020.

Mayor Breed’s upcoming order of reopenings covers many types of businesses, accelerated because we have, for now, kept our infection rate under pretty good control. But there is obviously more red tape for businesses that serve alcohol. And while establishments are surely sweating whether they’ll be able to serve booze in just five days, it’s totally normal for state permits to be granted at the eleventh hour (or at least, it was before COVID-19). Back when recreational marijuana became legal in January 2018, many dispensaries did not get their state recreational permits until literally the night before they were set to sell adult-use weed.

All of this talk of bureaucratic permitting misses the real issue here, which is whether this is even safe to do in the first place. Just yesterday, we saw Mill Valley’s Buckeye Roadhouse close again after reopening because two staff had tested positive. Certainly that means exposure for anyone who’d eaten there. There is no guarantee of safety with the accelerated reopenings, even if the state and city give their blessing. So if restaurants and bars get their permits to start serving stiff ones on Monday, they may end up in a circumstance where they regret doing so.

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Image: Tina O. via Yelp