This is a special cross-post editorial to BCWineLover.com
On Friday night my wife and I had a very rare evening to ourselves. Our immediate impulse was to visit one of the many fine, and affordable eateries not far from our Eastside digs over on Main street. It would be nice, we thought, to not spend much more than $100 on a nice meal with some wine, and Main Street now gives you plenty of choice.
For those who've not had the pleasure of strolling Main Street lately, it's really shaping up to be the most vibrant part of Vancouver. What a thrill it is to be walking this street on a warm summer evening, anywhere between Kingsway and 28th Avenue. For this we can thank the vision of the City's planning and engineering departments, Translink, and the clever ideas of my former VCPC colleague Frank Ducote who was a lead planner on the Main Street upgrades.
In part because of the improvements to the public realm, several compelling new restaurants have appeared in the neighbourhood. Our choice of Friday was Latitude, an urban-styled dining spot with a respectable wine menu featuring BC and international labels. The typical mark-up for alcohol in a restaurant like this is 100%, making something you might pay $18 for at retail, is now $36. Not everyone thinks it's fair, but not everyone knows the costs of running a restaurant. If you want something a little nicer, expect to pay well over 50 bucks a bottle.
Our wine choice pairing for a delicious paella and a beet salad starter was a 2008 Orofino Gewürztraminer, which we knew would be light, crisp with apple and pear notes, and a light acidity that would complement the dishes. It was the perfect fit both for our meal, and at $34/bottle it was within our budget.
As it turns out, had we been in the mood for a red that evening or wanting to spend a little more on wine, we could be breaking Vancouver's so-called 50/50 bylaw that takes effect January 1st, which requires that patrons spend not a penny more on alcohol than they do on food.
Credit goes to the Vancouver Sun's Gordon Hamilton, who first broke this story last week. The city and Councillor Raymond Louie, who has decided to own this issue on behalf of council, formed a quick response and stated they would give the new bylaw a "second look."
Local restaurant owners are trying to band together to fight what some have accused as a well-funded and organized lobby by the liquor primary license (aka bar) owners. While it is indeed true that the city's bar and nightclub owners heavily supported the campaigns of the NPA and Vision Vancouver during past elections, there's no clear evidence to suggest it was an influence on this bylaw. Many restaurant owners are skeptical though.
Critics of this policy will suggest that it was a half-baked attempt to try and whip some offending restaurant establishments into line. It's true that a small number of restaurants were becoming de facto bars with food as an afterthought. But restaurants mix food and a social ambiance that bars cannot always offer. If you have a meal, and decide that you want to have a bit more alcohol will you be cut off by the establishment not because you're inebriated but because you're spending too much money on booze?
Bars and nightclubs for the most part are inhabited by younger patrons. Once you get a little grey on your temples, clubs and bars can lose their lustre. A restaurant with a good wine menu has always been an attractive alternative to sitting around your own kitchen with friends. When the conversation flows, often so does the drink.
So how will Vancouver city council fix this pickle that they've created? Or will people be forced to order more food that they won't eat just to make sure they can order another drink? And what if you want to order an exceptional bottle of wine, and only a light meal? These are only a few of several questions that come to mind.
This bylaw is just another bad idea and a slap in the face to Vancouverites who've suffered lousy policy on serving alcohol since the days of Gassy Jack. Tim Pawsey, aka The Hired Belly over at the Vancouver Courier has written a brilliant response to this mess created by our city council that I urge our readers to have a look at.
No wonder restaurateurs are up in arms. We all should be.
Over the last few years, Vancouver's restaurant culture has evolved--matured, even--dramatically. And thank goodness it has. Whether you choose to dine traditionally (appetizer, main course and dessert), nibble on small plates and try different wines, or just have a snack and a couple of drinks while watching a game, you have a choice and can go where you want. In fact, the more relaxed regulations have resulted in the arrival of a whole new food, wine, beer and cocktail culture, which is blossoming across the Lower Mainland.
The very notion of "liquor primary" and "food primary" licensing is an absurd and outdated system.
Just when Vancouver's restaurant scene had become something worth bragging about, we throw it under the bus. Council must go back to the drawing board and fix this before the world arrives here during the 2010 Games in mere months.