Vail explores special districts so guests can stroll with booze
State’s current liquor regulation relaxations set to expire July 1
One of the few benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic was some loosening of the state’s liquor laws. Communities including Vail are now working to keep some of those exemptions in place.
Back in the years B.C. — Before COVID — if you bought an adult beverage in a bar or restaurant, you couldn’t leave the establishment with that drink in hand.
As restaurants and bars struggled with the pandemic, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued executive orders loosening some of those restrictions, including the ability to purchase a to-go cocktail. Vail officials in 2020 created “common consumption districts” in which guests can legally wander around portions of the town’s resort villages with a drink in hand.
The executive orders are set to expire July 1, so Vail business owners and officials are looking into creating state-authorized “entertainment districts” in which people can stroll certain areas of the villages with a drink in hand.
Those districts were authorized in 2019 by the Colorado Legislature. Beaver Creek created one of those districts that year.
During a presentation at the Vail Town Council’s Feb. 16 meeting, restaurateur Brian Nolan, who owns the Blue Moose Pizza restaurants in Vail and Beaver Creek, told councilmembers the Beaver Creek district has been a success.
Nolan also provided a bit of first-hand experience on how those districts would work.
Replying to a question about insurance requirements from Mayor Dave Chapin — a minority partner in Vendetta’s restaurant in Vail Village — Nolan said entertainment districts — also known as common consumption areas — don’t impose any further insurance burdens on individual businesses.
The town and the business community will have to create an authority for those districts, something Vail Town Attorney Matt Mire said is fairly straightforward.
But any state-sanctioned districts may be different than the ones currently in place. The state law prohibits creating common consumption areas where motorized traffic is allowed.
The idea, Nolan said, is to not have traffic driving through a festival or other event.
The town’s current consumption areas include the pedestrian portion of East Meadow Drive through Vail Village. Town buses usually run through that area, but don’t now due to passenger restrictions on the town’s transit system.
Mire said districts can be time-limited, which would allow deliveries into the resort villages. Transit, though, is a different story. State law currently doesn’t distinguish between transit and other vehicle traffic.
Nolan said he’s spoken with State Senator Kerry Donovan, who represents Eagle County and was a co-sponsor of the 2019 legislation. Nolan said Donovan is willing to go back to the legislature to try to amend the bill if needed.
Forming an entertainment district and drawing its boundaries could provide a serious boost to restaurant and bar revenue, even without pandemic restrictions in place.
Nolan said areas including Denver’s Larimer Street and 16th Street Mall have formed organizations for special districts, adding that state officials see those districts as a good thing.
At Beaver Creek over the summer, “There was an astronomical amount of cocktails sold,” Nolan said. “It’s a lot of revenue.”
While all council members agreed to move forward with creating districts for Vail, Chapin was particularly enthusiastic.
“Let’s keep this thing going,” he said. “People love it.”
• A formal “special entertainment district” allows people to wander with alcoholic beverages in traffic-free areas.
• Patrons carry drinks that bear the name of the establishment that sold those drinks.
• Beaver Creek has a county-authorized district.
• Denver’s 16th Street Mall is also a a special entertainment district.