B.C. liquor laws back in the spotlight after restaurant fined for patrons dancing

Click to play video: 'Vancouver restaurant fined for patrons dancing'
Vancouver restaurant fined for patrons dancing
WATCH: The owners of a Commercial Drive eatery are facing a huge fine after inspectors witnessed patrons dancing late one November night. RIchard Zussman reports. – Mar 1, 2024

British Columbia is facing new calls to modernize its antiquated liquor laws, following an incident that feels ripped straight from the Hollywood film Footloose.

Several weeks ago, Loula’s Taverna on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive was slapped with the choice of a $10,000 fine or a one-week liquor licence suspension, in part because people were dancing.

“When we opened this place we wanted to open doing something that was kind of fun for the city, it reminded us of our kind of travels in Greece, enjoying late dinners, having some nice wine, enjoying company, getting up, maybe breaking a plate or dancing,” operator Niko Kerasiotis told Global News.

“It sucks when you can’t fulfil that.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. bars say red tape liquor laws hurting business'
B.C. bars say red tape liquor laws hurting business

Loula’s operates under a food-primary licence, which specifies the business is not allowed to act as a bar or nightclub.

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Liquor inspectors found that along with the dancing, the business had a DJ performing, its lights turned down, and had closed its kitchen and was no longer serving food.

“It’s a pretty big sum of money for a small business,” Kerasiotis said.

“The margins continue to get thinner and thinner in the restaurant business.”

Opposition BC United Leader Kevin Falcon visited the restaurant on Friday and said the incident was an example of government red tape smothering small businesses just trying to survive.

“The issue is the government feels it is worth spending time to send liquor inspectors, coming in, pretending to be customers, and coming in and spying on the restaurant,” Falcon said.

Falcon said there is no question liquor inspectors are needed and that nightclubs shouldn’t be allowed to masquerade as restaurants.

But he said the government should loosen up on heavy-handed enforcement against small businesses that aren’t behaving egregiously.

“It’s why you go to a Greek restaurant, a little dancing — that’s part of the fun. We need to have fun; we don’t need a government that punishes the small businesses struggling to survive.”

“We’ve got to have a little more fun in this city.”

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Click to play video: 'Vancouver looks at relaxing liquor rules'
Vancouver looks at relaxing liquor rules

The provisions of B.C.’s food-primary licence scheme predate the current government, and the province has faced pressure to modernize its liquor regulations for decades.

Both the former BC Liberal government and the current NDP government have introduced a slew of changes to booze rules in recent years. But many regulations, such as the one banning bars and restaurants from buying their supply from private liquor stores, continue to rankle businesses.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said liquor regulations are currently undergoing a review, and wouldn’t rule out more changes — including on food-primary licences.

“They can actually apply for an authorization to hold a dance in a food primary, but we are looking at that to see whether or not that should change,” Farnworth said.

“If people want to dance, people should be able to dance.”

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Meanwhile, back at Loula’s, Kerasiotis said the province should take a look at how dining is done safely in other parts of the world — Greece, perhaps — and be ready to change.

“Loosen (the regulations) up a bit, go explore, see what other places are doing,” he said.

“There’s a reason we have a pretty bad reputation for being a no-fun city.”

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