Quebec OK's later hours for bars and restaurants so fans can watch Habs playoff games

The Quebec government has signed a ministerial decree allowing bars to extend their hours of operation and alcohol services during the course of the Vegas-Canadiens semifinal series to accommodate hockey fans amid late game start times.

Bars located in green, yellow zones can serve alcohol until midnight, close at 2 a.m.

Starting Monday, bars will be able to serve alcohol until midnight and close at 2 a.m. Restaurants can also serve alcohol until midnight under this decree.  (Peter David Josek/Associated Press)

The Quebec government is allowing bars to stay open later and serve alcohol until midnight, to accommodate hockey fans eager to watch the Montreal Canadiens take on the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

But fans will have to curb their enthusiasm — the public health rules still require people to remain seated at their tables.

Quebec authorized the later hours amid calls from bar owners because the first two games will take place in Nevada, meaning a 9 p.m. game start time for fans watching in Quebec.

Given the circumstances, Premier François Legault had speculated about revising these time constraints and other health measures on Sunday.

As of tonight, bars will be able to serve alcohol until midnight and close at 2 a.m. Restaurants can also serve alcohol until midnight, under a ministerial decree published today. 

In a tweet,  Health Minister Christian Dubé said the driving force behind the move was to "avoid ending up inside private homes." 

Until now, bars and restaurants in the yellow zone had to close at midnight and stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. Bars across Quebec were allowed to reopen for indoor service today, as regions that had been orange zones on the province's pandemic alert system were downgraded to yellow. Bar patios in those regions were allowed to reopen on Friday.

The ministerial decree is in response to a request from the province's restaurants association, the Association Restauration Québec (ARQ), which celebrated the adoption of their recommendations on their Facebook page, noting the measures are "permanent and universal" and are not specific to nights when there are hockey games.

Health restrictions still remain in place at bars, including a ban on singing and dancing. 

A distance of two metres between tables must also be kept, and clients must remain seated at their tables. In the yellow zone, occupants from two households can sit together.

Bars located in these regions must also still limit themselves to 50 per cent of the maximum capacity provided for in their liquor license, according to a release by the Health Ministry.

Earlier on Monday, Dubé told reporters that discussions are ongoing with public health about allowing more fans to attend home games in person. Nearly 18,000 fans will be allowed to attend games in Las Vegas, compared to 2,500 fans in Montreal.

Dubé said the Vegas Knights' decision to allow full-capacity crowds should not be a factor in Quebec's decision.

"We would not want to face criticism that, for emotional reasons, we forgot about the price we have paid over the last 12 to 15 months, all the sacrifices we made and while there are still variants," Dubé told reporters.

Bar owners applaud decision

Some bar owners are breathing a sigh of relief at the news, saying extending operations just a few hours more can really help their businesses — and avoid some potentially tense moments.

"For a place like mine that holds about 50 people, if each one orders one more drink, it makes a big difference," said Maria Mendes, owner of Bistro 1242 bar sportif. 

For Ziggy Eichenbaum, the owner of Ziggy's Pub in downtown Montreal, there was a risk the late start games could have continued past closing time if the rule hadn't been changed. 

"I can't throw people out in overtime,'' Eichenbaum said. "I'm going to ask everybody to leave, I'll have a riot.''

Pierre Thibault, president of the Nouvelle association des bars du Québec and co-owner of Taverne Saint-Sacrement, shared these sentiments, saying the new rules can help prevent potential gatherings in the streets if patrons were told it was time to wrap up their evening while the game was still being played.

With files from The Canadian Press, Radio-Canada