SIMON NATTRASS: Local businesses at odds with liquor laws

In Paris or Milan, café patrons would be shocked to find a business that didn’t at least sell wine and beer, if not a few spirits...

In Paris or Milan, café patrons would be shocked to find a business that didn’t at least sell wine and beer, if not a few spirits to chase that light lunch or freshen your morning coffee. While the sale of liquor in cafes and other businesses possessing Food Primary licenses is technically legal in this province, the more paternalistic instincts of the BC Liquor Control Board (LCB) ensure that the classic Parisian café is becoming a distant dream for The Capital.

It took a year for Meg Iredale-Gray, part owner of Solstice Café, to receive her Food Primary license and a little longer for an amendment to satisfy the LCB’s fear of audience participation during events. Thinking all was well, she was surprised a short while later when a liquor inspector decided she had broken the conditions of her license by selling too much alcohol during their 45-minute visit.

Despite an arduous approval process, Iredale-Gray says most of her difficulties have come after being licensed.

“We seem to be stuck in a limbo where there’s not a proper license for us.” Instead, the LCB has — in a classic move of bureaucratic alchemy — transmuted cafes into restaurants. This new role carries with it the expectation that cafés will sell more food than alcohol every hour.

For event venues like Solstice, this means risking a fine every time concert-goers opt for a beer instead of a coffee during a three or four-hour event.

What’s more, regardless of a business’s total sales, guilt is determined on the spot by a liquor inspector, meaning the threat of arbitrary fines is always looming. “It’s what the inspector sees that matters. If they observe people buying alcohol and not food, they say you’re serving outside of your conditions.”

Solstice isn’t the only local business to find itself at odds with the LCB. In the coming months, Iredale-Gray and several other business owners will be drafting a proposal to the board in the hopes of addressing some of its more extreme inconsistencies.

With inspectors arbitrarily enforcing the unachievable demands of outdated laws made by an unaccountable arm of the government, it’s a wonder any business manages to navigate the Kafka-esque labyrinth of the LCB and win the right to serve a beer or two. M

Just Posted

MATHIEU POIRIER: Exciting changes in store for Great Canadian Beer Fest

Annual celebration of craft beer expands to include more breweries from around the country

BEHIND BARS: Tag team ‘tenders driving the Barts’ bar

Matt Chaffe and Curtis Kidd keep locals and tourists cool during the summer season downtown

Roller skating fever taking over Greater Victoria

Roller Skate Victoria offers workshops, summer camps and more

Learn about a life of luxury at Victoria’s historic Point Ellice House

New political exhibit part of grand reopening at the House this weekend, July 20-21

World of electronic musical wonders await at long weekend festival

Wonderment ambient/downtempo music festival slips into bridge plaza, Banfield Park Aug. 3-4

VIDEO: Reports say Lashana Lynch is the new 007

Daniel Craig will reprise his role as Bond one last time

Esquimalt Ribfest in need of volunteers for September weekend

The three-day celebration of barbecue, music and more happens Sept. 6 to 8

Fashionable ode to the sea goes Friday at Fort Common

Local sustainable fashion retailers to strut their latest as part of ocean conservation fundraiser

Brentwood Bay brings $5 concerts every Wednesday evening

Variety of music on offer: picnics, good vibes and family friendly

Schitt’s Creek and its stars among Canadians with Emmy nominations

Co-creator Eugene Levy thought they had chance for one nomination, ‘then they kept rolling in’

Most Read