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Liquor regulations, licensing board frustrating all

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Frustration with the province’s Byzantine liquor regulations, the inequities they can lead to and the apparent over-licensing of the village spilled over at Whistler council’s meeting on Dec. 4.

Liquor consultant Bert Hick was at the meeting on behalf of four C licensed nightclubs seeking to "level the playing field." Tommy Africa’s, Garfinkel’s, the Savage Beagle and Moe Joe’s all have to close at midnight on Sundays. The A licensed clubs, including Buffalo Bill’s, the Longhorn and the Crab Shack, as well as the C licensed Maxx Fish, are allowed to remain open to 1 a.m. Monday.

The application is supported by the Whistler Food and Beverage Association and the municipality’s Liquor Licence Advisory Committee. However, RCMP and bylaw department representatives were not at the committee meeting where the application was discussed.

Council support was less enthusiastic. Councillor Dave Kirk asked Hick what would be the community benefit of allowing the clubs to remain open an extra hour on Sundays. Hick replied that it would level the playing field for all clubs.

Councillor Ken Melamed inquired about levelling the playing field by rolling back everyone’s closing time to midnight on Sundays. Hick replied that he thought council would have trouble doing that.

"I get the feeling that we have very little control. The liquor branch does as it sees fit and this is just a formality," Melamed concluded.

Council members’ frustrations stemmed from the fact there are a host of licensing related issues that have yet to be addressed, including noise, the Patron Disbursement Program, new provincial liquor regulations, and the number of licensed seats in the village, which sometimes leads to fierce competition among establishments.

New provincial regulations will increase the licensed capacity of some clubs.

Hick is also representing a group applying for a D class (neighbourhood pub) licence in the St. Andrews House. The concept for the proposed establishment, called the Havana Room, is a high-end, upscale lounge catering to a narrow niche market. Maximum seating capacity would be 40. There would be no off sales, no patio, no draft beer sales, no dance floor and no stage. Entrance would be through Castro’s Cuban Cigar Store, located below the Havana Room.

Hick also expressed frustration, saying the owners of the four clubs asking to extend their Sunday hours of operation had been trying to meet with the Liquor Licensing Committee for several months prior to their Nov. 23 meeting.

"We’d like to sit down and get a dialogue going on noise and other issues," Hick said.

Council eventually passed a motion to refer the four clubs’ request to stay open an extra hour on Sundays to staff "with the idea of levelling the playing field." The four clubs will also be asked to sign a Good Neighbour Agreement.

Councillor Nick Davies voted against the motion, saying the municipality was in effect "holding these four operators hostage to a larger issue that has nothing to do with their current issue." Davies said: "It’s just not fair that some clubs in the same area can stay open (to 1 a.m.) and others can’t."

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