3 min

A small step for bars

But a giant leap promised ahead

BUILDING MOMENTUM: Coun Tim Stevenson is starting small on liquor reform, asking for lots of memos. But he says he plans major changes over the coming months. Credit: Robin Perelle

Led by gay councillor Tim Stevenson, the city has taken its first baby steps in reforming liquor laws by allowing cabarets and some pubs to temporarily remain open Sundays until 2 am-or 1 am in some cases. They previously closed by midnight.

This means that Davie Village clubs like Numbers and the Odyssey can now apply to extend their Sunday hours until 2 am, and unless they have had recent serious enforcement issues, the applications have to be granted. Pubs like the Fountainhead and the PumpJack can apply to have their Sunday hours extended to whatever they are on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Pubs that stay open past midnight should have the same opportunities on Sundays as they do on Fridays and Saturdays,” said Stevenson at the Apr 8 council meeting.

But there’s a catch: the change is only a temporary four-month trial. During this time, city staff has been instructed to conduct neighbourhood assessments and study the feasibility of implementing permanent extensions to the hours of bar operations. Stevenson says he is confident that excessive noise won’t be a problem, and that the extension will soon be made permanent.

Stevenson concedes he hasn’t yet achieved the 4 am club closings that many Vancouverites have been looking for-and which became an issue in last autumn’s civic election-but he says it’s a good start.

“It’s like opening a door,” he says. “Would people like more? Yes, but all these things take time and effort.”

He says he’s not stopping with Sunday openings. Stevenson’s council motion-approved unanimously by COPE but opposed by NPA councillors Sam Sullivan and Peter Ladner-included instructions to staff to produce a memo by the end of May outlining policy changes that would allow the 4 am closings. Stevenson says that Davie St, Broadway, and Granville St are the areas most likely to eventually be granted the later hours. Licensing staff at the council meeting seemed reluctant to accept the deadline, saying that they were extremely busy.

Stevenson told staff that he wanted things done before this summer’s Pride week, so Davie bars will have enough time to apply for the extensions. Part of the motion included a request that the Chief License Inspector continue to grant temporary licenses to certain bars for special events. Stevenson specifically inquired if this would apply to Pride. Staff replied that it would, but added that, to be fair, they would have to make sure that other communities were treated the same way.

Allegations by Davie St bar owners and their customers that gay bars were treated unequally by city led the gay community to begin a campaign against provincial liquor laws and municipal policies as far back as 1997.

Stevenson says he realizes that without major policy changes at city hall, it would be easy for future councils to reverse any progress, such as 4 am closings. He insists that the ball is now rolling.

“I’m trying to deal with this one [issue] at a time,” he says. “This week we made a very big start.”

Stevenson and Mayor Larry Campbell also requested a staff report by the end of June on another issue of importance to the gay community-making temporary liquor licences permanent. Owners of the PumpJack, for example, have been battling city staff for years in an attempt to get a permanent licence.

Those owners recently sent a letter to Campbell and council specifically outlining what they say is discrimination against bars on Davie St.

The lengthy case they outline seems to have won some sympathy among COPE councillors.

“The staff claims they have not discriminated,” says Stevenson. “But on the other hand, I’ve received this letter.”

Stevenson says he’s planning a meeting with the pub’s owners, himself, and city staff to get to the root of the problem. He says he doesn’t think staff deliberately discriminates against gay establishments, and that straight-owned pubs are seeing some of the same temporary licence problems.

“It’s not just the PumpJack,” he says. “It’s every club that’s opened in the last few years.”

Whatever the case, Stevenson says he wants staff to find a way to deal with problematic establishments by refusing permanent licenses-without punishing places with no history of enforcement problems.

In related news, the COPE majority voted to oppose plans by the provincial Liberal government to privatize liquor stores.

Says lesbian councillor Ellen Woodsworth: “Everything that happened in Alberta will happen here-we’ll lose all small wineries, breweries will disappear. They’ll have no way of getting it out all across the province. Lots of gays and lesbians work at liquor stores and they’ll lose their jobs. That’s 5,000 jobs less in Vancouver and that’s going to hurt our economy.”