Fun sheriff cancels patio party

June 24, 2010

Guelph Mercury, 23/06/10 sheriff

Let’s hear it for the fun sheriff.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has crashed the party once again, and this time they’re after Guelph’s downtown sidewalk patios.

The provincial agency that regulates alcohol sales in Ontario says downtown restaurants that have sidewalk patios not abutting their entrances are breaking the rules. Simply put, they say it’s illegal to carry alcohol across a sidewalk to a patio area.

Like Mom coming home early to a high school keg party, the province’s inspectors swept in and said these patios must stop serving booze or be moved. Problem is, those provincial rules don’t jive with a local accessibility bylaw that requires patios to give pedestrians a six-foot berth between the building and patio chairs.

But the alcohol and gaming commission doesn’t care about people in wheelchairs trying to get down the street. They’re worried about far more serious problems, like a few drops of Trailhead spilling on the concrete.

Who are these party-poopers? Why, they’re the same agency that earlier this year banned an Austrian beer called Samichlaus — because it sounded too much like Santa Claus. They were worried the high-alcohol beer, which has an image of a man with a beard, would be too appealing to youth. Thanks for keeping us safe, Mom.

This in the same wet-blanket province that also banned the skull-shaped bottles of Dan’s Akroyd’s Crystal Head vodka, worried that they would also appeal too much to kids, who apparently only like booze that comes in cartoonish shapes.

Of course, it’s perfectly fine to serve alcohol within the patio area, and within the restaurant itself. But the law decrees you can’t walk that booze across a stretch of sidewalk to bring it to people’s tables. Never mind that a patio a full floor above the street is perfectly fine, regardless of what gravity has to say about it.

I’m struggling to understand the imminent danger to citizens posed by waitresses carrying beer across six feet of sidewalk. Cups full of steaming coffee, pitchers of water and precarious plates of hot food are fine, but alcoholic drinks are a threat?

These kind of black-and-white rules may make plenty of sense to bureaucrats carrying out legislation, but they seem to lack common sense. And they seem to throw yet another unnecessary obstacle in the way of businesses trying to bring a little more vibrancy to our city’s downtown area.

Meanwhile, after spending millions giving its main street a facelift, downtown Kitchener is finally bustling with people who are enjoying a new cluster of sidewalk patios. Many of these are detached from their buildings, and are filled with people smoking (gasp) and eating fatty food that has not been approved by the province (heavens, no!).

These sidewalk patios are bringing new life to that city’s core. The fun sheriffs must be seething.

Controlling alcohol sales should be all about ensuring public safety, shouldn’t it? If that’s true, small sidewalk patios aren’t the problem. Over-packed clubs, that’s another thing.

But I guess provincial agencies sometimes go looking for things to do. So while they’re at it, why can’t the liquor inspectors spend time on more pressing problems, like kids who drink those gross, overly sweet coolers instead of some refreshing, locally made lager?

For now, our downtown restaurants have to figure out how to appease both the liquor inspectors and the accessibility advocates and their contradictory rules. Maybe, just maybe, the alcohol and gaming commission will find a way to back off on this fight and realize there are much bigger bottles to break.

If they do, I’d say cheers to that.

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