Many Quebec bar owners want last call extended past midnight

As Quebec lifts COVID-19 restrictions, bar owners say the province's midnight cutoff time for alcohol sales is hurting business.

Early cutoff time for alcohol sales is hurting business, bar owners say

Ziggy Eichenbaum, owner of Ziggy's Pub, says he loses 50 to 60 per cent of his evening business because of the early last call. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Quebec bar owners say they don't understand why the COVID-19 health order preventing alcohol sales after midnight is still in effect, and they say the rule is hurting business and leading some patrons to drink irresponsibly.

"It doesn't make sense at all,'' Ziggy Eichenbaum, owner of Ziggy's Pub in downtown Montreal, said in an interview Tuesday.

He said that with last call at midnight rather than the usual 3 a.m., he loses around 50 per cent to 60 per cent of his evening business. The early last call, Eichenbaum added, is not reasonable at a time when other provinces, including Ontario, allow bars to stay open to their pre-pandemic hours.

"It seems like the premier thinks Quebecers don't know how to drink,'' Eichenbaum said. "The rest of Canada is OK, it's only Quebec.''

COVID-19 health orders require bars and nightclubs to close at 2 a.m. but prohibit alcohol sales after midnight. Patrons must be seated and dancing is not allowed.

Pierre Thibault, president of a Quebec bar owners' group called Nouvelle association des bars du Quebec, said Tuesday in an interview he's worried about the future of the city's nightclubs, many of which remain closed. While the situation is frustrating for bars, many are able to survive by serving alcohol from noon to midnight, he said.

Nightclubs, however, can't offer the experience clients are looking for because dancing is banned.

 "People that loved their nightclub, they were there for one week, two weeks, but now, this is not a nightclub, so they don't come back,'' he said. 

"People who want to dance are going elsewhere, including to private parties," he added.

Mathieu Drapeau, owner of Club Unity in Montreal's Village, said he's lucky his business has a rooftop patio, the only part of his club he has reopened. He said he's trying to adapt to the rules by opening earlier, but attracting clients on weekend afternoons costs money for marketing at a time when he's just keeping the club afloat.

If the rules don't change by the fall, he said he risks going out of business.

Last-minute drinking

Drapeau said he hears clients talking about going to house parties when they leave the bar. 

"It's way better, from my point of view, to keep people on my rooftop terrace, it's on the third floor, it's got fresh air,'' he said, adding that people are required to stay in their seats, something he said won't happen at a crowded house party.

Renaud Poulin, CEO of a bar owners' association, said his group was planning to write to the provincial government Tuesday to ask when restrictions on bars will be relaxed. Poulin, with the Corporation des propriétaires de bars, brasseries et tavernes du Québec, said his members would like an explanation about why the early closing time remains in place.

Poulin said the rules are encouraging some patrons to order large quantities of alcohol shortly before last call, which he said can cause problems and lead to heavier drinking.

Eichenbaum said his patrons try to drink as much as possible before it's time to leave. 

"Quarter to midnight, or 10 to midnight, people ask me for 15, 20 shots and five pitchers of beer,'' Eichenbaum said, adding that he denies those requests.

He said he's hopeful last call will return to its usual time before Canada's border reopens in August to tourists from the United States. 

"Hopefully, with the border opening up and all the tourists coming back to Montreal [Premier François Legault] is going to realize that Montreal is known for nightlife,'' he said.

"If he wants to kill Montreal, he's doing a good job.''

The Health Department did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.

Quebec reported 76 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and no deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.