Province reverses course, allows Winnipeg-area beverage rooms to remain open

Manitoba has reversed a decision to close Winnipeg-area beverage rooms for two weeks as part of tougher new pandemic restrictions.

Bars within hotels were slated to close for two weeks

Winnipeg-area beverage rooms will be able to remain open. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Manitoba has reversed a decision to close Winnipeg-area beverage rooms for two weeks as part of tougher new pandemic restrictions.

New public health orders that take effect Monday evening no longer require beverage rooms in the Winnipeg metropolitan region to close for two weeks, as the chief provincial public officer said they would on Friday.

Beverage rooms, which are bars within licensed hotels, were to close for two weeks as part of a package of new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the Winnipeg area.

Hotel owners complained, saying they were being unfairly targeted while licensed restaurants and lounges were able to remain open for the two-week period, albeit at half capacity.

The Manitoba Hotel Association told its members Monday evening the province had a change of heart.

"The new health orders were just released by the province and there is an about face on the closure of beverage rooms. Beverage rooms will no longer need to close as previously announced," hotel association president Scott Jocelyn said in an email to hoteliers. 

"The only licence type that will have to shut down is entertainment facility," Jocelyn wrote.

A new public health order published Monday confirmed only bars licensed under the province's "entertainment facility liquor service licence" — essentially, stand-alone nightclubs with live music — must close for two weeks.

All licensed venues that remain open are limited to 50 per cent capacity and can not seat more than five people at a table.

They're also required to limit music to 80 decibels.

'I was just so excited'

The decision means Ravi Ramberran, the owner of Four Crowns Hotel and Restaurant on McPhillips Street, won't have to lay off his staff. 

"I was just so excited that I could call my staff, one by one, and tell them they still have a job," he said.

"It was an unbelievable feeling to do that, because it is the worst feeling in the world to call them and tell them that they don't have a job."

He said he transformed his beverage room to a full-service restaurant in order to adapt to COVID-19 regulations, and supports restrictions that help keep people safe, such as occupancy limits.

"I'm in favour of a lot of those restrictions, because I do feel like it does make things safer for the city, safer for me and my staff and my customers. I do agree that, you know, the partying and the intoxicated mingling is probably not the best idea," he said. 

But the shutdown in the spring almost put him out of business, and Ramberran said he didn't think he could survive another one.

"That's the difference between possibly putting the business for sale and not," he said.

With files from Sarah Petz