Bar owners call on Quebec to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, extend last call past midnight

Bartender Neil Creighton pulls a pint of beer at Hurley's Pub Wednesday, September 30, 2020 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Quebec bar owners say they don’t understand why the COVID-19 health order preventing alcohol sales after midnight is still in effect, and they warn the rule is leading some patrons to drink irresponsibly.

“It doesn’t make sense at all,” Ziggy Eichenbaum, owner of Ziggy’s Pub in downtown Montreal, said in an interview Tuesday.

He said with last call at midnight — rather than the usual 3 a.m. — he loses around 50 per cent to 60 per cent of his evening business. The early last call, Eichenbaum added, is not reasonable at a time when other provinces, including Ontario, allow bars to stay open to their pre-pandemic hours.

“It seems like the premier thinks Quebecers don’t know how to drink,” Eichenbaum said. “The rest of Canada is OK, it’s only Quebec.”

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COVID-19 health orders require bars to close at 2 a.m. but prohibit alcohol sales after midnight. Dancing is also prohibited.

The restrictions have kept many of Montreal’s nightclubs closed. Mathieu Drapeau, owner of Club Unity in Montreal’s Village, said he’s lucky because his rooftop patio has made it profitable for him to reopen despite the restrictions. But customers, he said, aren’t used to coming to the club before 9 p.m., making it difficult to serve everyone in the limited time.

Drapeau said he’s trying to adapt to the restrictions by opening earlier, but he said attracting clients on weekend afternoons requires him to spend money on marketing at a time when he’s just keeping the club afloat.

If the rules don’t change by the fall, he said he risks going out of business.

Drapeau said he hears clients talking about going to house parties when they leave the bar.

“It’s way better, from my point of view, to keep people on my rooftop terrace — it’s on the third floor, it’s got fresh air,” he said, adding that people are required to stay in their seats at the bar, something that won’t happen at a crowded house party.

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Renaud Poulin, CEO of a bar owners’ association, said his group was planning to write to the provincial government Tuesday to ask when restrictions on bars will be relaxed. Poulin, with the Corporation des propriétaires de bars, brasseries et tavernes du Québec, said the rules are encouraging some patrons to order large quantities of alcohol shortly before last call, which he said can cause problems.

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“Quarter to midnight, or 10 to midnight, people ask me for 15, 20 shots and five pitchers of beer,” Eichenbaum said, adding that he says no to those requests. He said, however, he’ll let people stay in the bar until 1 a.m. to finish their drinks.

Eichenbaum said he’s hopeful last call will return to its usual time before Canada’s border reopens in August to tourists from the United States. “Hopefully, with the border opening up and all the tourists coming back to Montreal (Premier François Legault) is going to realize that Montreal is known for nightlife,” he said.

“If he wants to kill Montreal, he’s doing a good job.”

The Health Department did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.

Quebec reported 76 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and no deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.

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