The pandemic has paved the way for restaurants to offer to-go cocktails, beer, and wine. Could looser public drinking laws be next? For parts of Montgomery County, the answer is yes. Beginning Thursday, September 24, alcohol consumption will be allowed in nine designated parks as part of a pilot program approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday. It will run at least through May.
The change is one facet of the county’s “Picnic in the Park” initiative, which aims to bolster takeout business for nearby restaurants while providing venues for safe social distancing. The MoCo Eats website shows picnic-goers which restaurants will deliver to them, and each park has drop-off spots for drivers.
Out of the county’s 422 parks, those chosen for the pilot program include: Jesup Blair Local Park, Acorn Urban Park, Germantown Town Center Urban Park, Norwood Local Park, Olney Manor Recreational Park, Takoma Urban Park, Wall Local Park, Wheaton Local Park, and Wheaton Regional Park. Within each park, there will be clearly designated picnic areas.
“We know this is not going to be a big bailout for the restaurants, but if we can give them a little extra business by having people pick up carryout or delivery and then have a picnic in our park, we’re all for it,” says Montgomery Parks Director Michael Riley. While the idea is that people will order their alcohol from local restaurants, BYOB is allowed too.
Riley has gotten just a few emails opposing public drinking in parks. “The worst that someone might spin it is that in the middle of a pandemic, we’re encouraging keg parties in the park. We’re absolutely not,” he says, noting public intoxication is easy to enforce if there’s an issue.
Others have expressed concerned that it will invite confrontations with cops. Riley says he’s confident in the force’s community policing skills, and guesses there’d be more confrontations if people had open containers illegally. He also notes that certain Montgomery County parks technically already allowed alcohol, including at golf courses, five event and wedding venues, and pop-up dog parks with “yappy hours.” They’ve never had any problems there.
Assuming everything goes well, Riley hopes to continue and expand the program.
Could DC do the same? For now, there’s nothing in the works. A spokesperson for DC Council chairman Phil Mendelsohn says they haven’t received any inquiries about loosening public drinking rules. A similar change would also be complicated by the fact that many parks in DC—including Dupont Circle and Farragut Square for example—are federal National Park Service properties.
At the same time, the city has approved various restaurant parklets and “streateries,” which can serve alcohol. Notably, a portion of downtown DC will be closed on weekends from Sept. 25 through Oct. 25 to host a huge outdoor seating area for nearby restaurants.