British Columbia

Commercial Drive institution Fets Whisky Kitchen set to close as legal fight continues

The owners of a Vancouver bar and restaurant known for its specialty whiskies say they're ready to retire after over three decades of business on the Drive.

After 36 years and a long dispute with the B.C liquor board, Eric and Allura Fergie are stepping away

A husband and wife pose in front of a bar, with dozens of bottles behind them. The man is a white man with white spiked hair and glasses. The woman is blonde and is wearing a red top.
Eric, left, and Allura Fergie, the longtime owners of Fets Whisky Kitchen, are stepping away from the restaurant business in December. But they'll still be keeping busy promoting specialty whisky and fighting the B.C. liquor branch in court. (Josh Grant/CBC)

The longtime owners of Fets Whisky Bar, a literal library of specialty whiskies on Vancouver's Commercial Drive, will be leaving the restaurant business behind in December after a 36-year run.

Eric and Allura Fergie will be hosting a series of whisky pairing dinners, with their first since early 2020 set for Sunday, Sept. 11. The two have been working in the service industry since their teens and say the pandemic helped them realize it was time to slow down.

"My partner is also my wife, and we will both be unemployed," said Eric Fergie with a laugh in an interview with CBC.

"We don't want to end up being that bitter old couple that still runs a restaurant."

He and Allura will still be sampling whisky and working with a few whisky organizations to promote quality spirits and teach people how to craft them.

Fergie says they're open to handing over the reins if someone's interested in buying the business, but so far, the plan is to close the doors and say a final goodbye to their staff on Dec. 23.

Allura Fergie says she has mixed feelings.

"[I'm] excited for what the future holds, but sad because we're not going to be on the Drive anymore," she said in an interview.

The two plan to travel North America in a newly purchased RV and spend more quality time with their three sons, two young grandchildren and several nieces and nephews when they're not on the road.

"I have a big family," she said. "I love kids, and I want to watch them grow and watch them go for their own dreams."

A bar with purple neon lighting underneath it, and dozens of bottles behind it. A ladder and stairs lead up to a level with more bottles.
Fets Whisky Kitchen started as Fettucini's Café in 1986. It quickly grew into a popular restaurant on the Drive after moving across the street and amassing Canada's largest collection of specialty whiskies. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Long history

Fets Whisky Bar started in 1986 as a pasta bar called Fettucine's Café. In 1996, it moved from a cramped hole-in-the-wall-style restaurant to a larger location on the other side of the street at 1230 Commercial Drive.

"Our regulars just shortened it and called it Fets," said Eric Fergie, explaining how the name then became Fets Pasta Bar.

The new space led to a growing whisky collection and a realization that people were coming for more than just food.

In 2012 it rebranded as Fets Whisky Kitchen, boasting the largest collection in Canada.

Fergie says the people he and his wife have met along the way are what they'll cherish the most.

"We've made some incredibly life-long relationships," he said. "We have friends that we've known since the restaurant first opened — many of them."

A storefront with the sign 'Fets Whisky Kitchen'.
Fets Whisky Kitchen drew people in with its popular food menu and massive whisky collection. Owners Eric and Allura Fergie say they'll still be around the Commercial Drive neighbourhood, just on the other side of the counter. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Legal battle

The couple may be leaving the restaurant behind, but they're forging ahead in a legal battle with the British Columbia Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB). In 2018, Fets and three other B.C. bars were raided by liquor branch inspectors.

Hundreds of bottles of specialty whisky that were legally imported but purchased from private retailers were confiscated, and the couple took the province to court after the LCRB upheld its initial decision.

"We know that we were wronged by the agency, by the inspectors. And we will fight to the end to prove that," said Eric.

Eric says B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nathan H. Smith ruled last December that they were "denied procedural fairness" and ordered the province to share all of the documents relating to the case with the couple.

Almost 300 pages of files released two years ago have now been unredacted, but Eric says they mention "emails and conversations" he and his wife haven't been able to review. 

"Our lawyer feels that he has what he needs to move this forward. But Allura and I feel that we have the right to see all [of it]," he said.

A sign that reads 'Vancouver's Premier Whisky Bar Fets Whisky Kitchen Southern Inspired Whisky Infused'.
Fets Whisky Kitchen will be closing its doors on Dec. 23 but owners Eric and Allura Fergie say they plan to see a legal battle with the B.C. Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch through to the very end. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Eric says the 242 bottles of whisky taken from his shelves were taxed and purchased in B.C., and he feels they should be returned.

Ultimately, he hopes the litigation will make life easier for other bar and restaurant owners.

"Our goal is to leave this industry in better shape than we arrived in it."

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Public Safety Ministry — which oversees the liquor branch — said it would not be commenting as the matter is still before the courts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Grant is a CBC News reporter based in Vancouver, British Columbia. He previously worked for CBC in Montreal and Quebec City and for the Nation magazine serving the Cree communities of Northern Quebec. You can reach him at josh.grant@cbc.ca.

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