Barley Mowat 

Rio Revisited

with 5 comments

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the Rio Theatre, and even some traction from politicians and the media. Heck, even the mayor has come out in favour of updating the liquor laws to allow the Rio to continue to show movies. That’s great, and all, but of course the municipal government has little control over such laws.

But, let’s say that someone in Victoria takes notice, proposes a change and, for some reason, that change passes. Then we’re all good, right? Let’s dust off our hands, head to the movies and call it a day!

Not even close. The trick is that this stupid rule is but one in a giant, long list of stupid rules. As I’ve said before, the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Act (and its associated regulations) are broken. Busted. Borked beyond repair. You can’t just bandaid it a bit and think you’ve won. We should instead be seriously considering just tossing the whole fucking thing in the gutter and starting over.

The current act was very much written from the point of view of “Liquor is the debil drink, and we’d best make it as hard as possible for people to use it.” I’m proposing that we re-write it from the point of view “People are fucking adults, and capable of making their own decisions.” Here are a couple minor examples:

– You don’t want people to be fall-over drunk in the streets? Fine, enforce anti- public drunkenness laws rather than create laws prohibiting consumption of booze in public. Those laws do little to stop clubbers pre-gaming in the alley Friday night, and do a whole lot to stop people having a nice beer with lunch on the seawall. Make the thing you don’t want to happen illegal and then enforce it.

Trust me, violators aren’t hard to spot.

– You’d like to avoid predatory drink special pricing? (DTES bars would open at 9am with 50c beer, then slowly raise the price as patrons got too drunk to notice) Fine, make that illegal. Don’t ban time-limited specials wholesale, because 95% of the bars out there aren’t trying to deliberately over serve and then rob you. Also, enforce the anti-overserving rules, ferjebus’ sake.

Then there’s all the rules that just don’t make sense, period, aside from the broad “booze is bad, m’kay” mindset. Usually these are on the licensing and distribution side. Like, for instance, the one that specifies a minimum price for different classes of booze, but not a maximum. Can’t have beer too cheap, but we don’t mind if you price gouge, because people will drink less.

Or, imagine you’re a small restaurant, and at a local LRS tasting you’ve discovered that perfect wine/beer to pair with your desert, but wow, it’s $50. So you’d like to grab a couple of bottles for the odd high-end dinner. Easy, right? I mean, it’s right there on the LRS shelf. Not so fast. That LRS can’t sell you the wine since you’re a licensee. You have to go to the LDB and, lo and behold, it’s not a listed item. Which means you need to put in a special order for the importer, and you need to buy 12 bottles minimum, assuming they even have it. That $100 order for two bottles you could reasonably stock and sell just became a $600 investment that will sit on your shelf until it goes bad. That’s enough for most small restauranteurs to simply walk away.

This is because our approach to booze licensing and distribution is completely fuckwarded. Yes, it’s a word, from the latin “fuckwardae,” or “laws made by overly conservative morons in the 1920s.” Oddly appropriate, don’t you think?

For instance, one of my long term dreams is to open a no thrills pub in Vancouver. Somewhere nice and small, downtown, where you can get a pint of good beer and watch the game. I would skip a kitchen, because there’s great take-out everywhere (and kitchens often don’t make much money), and do a cash-only service with no wait staff. Why? Because all those things cost money, and I’d like to have a nice $5 20oz pint, no tips. Just the sort of little hole in the wall where you can pop in, read the paper and have a pint before popping back out into the rain. A nice, quiet corner pub.

This sort of venture is actually possible in BC. You’d need a liquor primary to get around the no-food clause, but it is possible. The problem is liquor primaries are hard to come by. So hard, in fact, that you have to buy an existing one rather than apply for a new one because, fuck if the LCB is granting new ones (same goes for LRSs). The reasoning behind limiting these licenses is to prevent drunken riots, or something like that. Too much booze access will cause people to drink to excess, I guess.

OK, fine, let’s buy one then. They only cost $500,000. Yup, $500,000. And up. Way up. (Versus the $2000 a new application would cost) With an initial cost sink like that the only way to make money would be to basically force all my patrons to drink as much booze as possible, before turning them out into the street to let the next wave in. Nice quiet pub? Fuck that, I’ve got bills to pay.

Yes, the ideology that wants to prevent overconsumption in overcrowded bars essentially REQUIRES bars to become the thing they’re trying to prevent, and PREVENTS places like the LCB wants to exist from, well, existing.

I figure we should just do away with complex licensing, and move from a “licensing as means to limit access” approach to “licensing as a means to collect revenue” view. Booze is money, and we need money right now. Do away with specific liquor licensing, I say. Your business license is your booze license. Use it to buy booze and then sell it (open or closed) whatever way you want for whatever price you want. Pay a progressive tax based on how much you buy (divided by, say, the seats in your business).

Enforce over-serving, overconsumption, and sale to minors. It’s not that hard.

Trust me, chaos will not result. We are, after all, adults. And adults can handle our booze.

Written by chuck

January 31st, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Beer and You

5 Responses to 'Rio Revisited'

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  1. Chuck, I wanted to open that exact same no-frills pub: a small place with no food, no table service and real 20 oz pints. They have hundreds of those places in England, but it’s not even possible to do here. Instead I spend most of my nights out drinking in “restaurants”.

    The most frustrating thing is that when someone spends $500,000 on a liquor primary license, the government isn’t even getting the money; it’s going to some jerk who has been sitting on a license for years without operating a bar. So the government creates this artificial shortage of liquor licenses and the only people who benefit from it are the lucky few who already have liquor primary licenses.

    Ben Coli

    31 Jan 12 at 14:34

  2. Once again well ranted…I was just typing out my own version of a rant on the same subject but will defer to the rant master Barley Mowat

    Paddy Treavor

    31 Jan 12 at 15:00

  3. @Ben. We could join forces! It’s only a $250k initial investment that way… aw screw it. Armed insurrection to change the law is just cheaper, all round.

    @Paddy. Thanks, but you should put something out there that is at least semi credible. The media likes you much, much better than me 🙂


    31 Jan 12 at 15:05

  4. Well said. I generally like Vancouver (and Canada) since I have come to live here but this issue drives me mental. As someone who grew up in the UK, I resent having to tip a waitress to bring me a beer at a table when I was quite happy to walk up to the bar and get it (and tip the barman, cause tipping is what you do in Canada).

    I will be there if you get that pub open. Buy good crisps!


    31 Jan 12 at 16:02

  5. […] what would I like to see changed? Oh boy do I have ideas! I’ve ranted about this before, but no harm in rehashing it a bit. For now, I’ll leave my ideas about import/warehousing […]

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