Soccer fans want World Cup drinking hours extended
TORONTO - Toronto soccer fans and bar owners are cheering a proposal being kicked around by the city's deputy mayor to extend drinking hours at bars and restaurants during soccer's World Cup.
Since host South Africa is six hours ahead of the Eastern time zone, next month's games will air in Toronto at 7:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. But bars and restaurants can't legally serve alcohol until 11 a.m.
Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone wants to roll that back an hour during the tournament. Bending the rules so fans can hoist a beer or other libation at 10 a.m. as they cheer on their favourite team is good for patrons and small businesses alike, he said Friday.
"The nature of celebrations is that people like to have a drink with it," said Pantalone, who'll be rooting for Italy.
"The recession is still with us. Small business is the backbone of this city and this country and this will help the small businesses that operate as restaurants and bars."
The mayoral candidate said bar hours have been tweaked for special events before, such as the Toronto International Film Festival.
He'll bring a motion before city council next Wednesday to get the ball rolling.
Initially he thought the city had to ask permission from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario but found out Friday afternoon that under Ontario's Liquor Licence Act, it's up to the city.
Pantalone said his motion will ask council to approve a bylaw allowing alcohol to be served at 10 a.m. between June 11 and July 11.
Christine Whittick, owner of The Football Factory, expects her bistro-bar -- which is completely dedicated to "footie" -- will be filled to capacity as patrons catch all the action on 15 big-screen TVs.
"We were very excited to hear that could be a possibility because we've had customers asking us about that for months," said Whittick.
The bar shows a lot of European league football. When visitors from Europe go to the bar, they're surprised they can't get a drink at 9 a.m., she said.
Manchester United fan Matt Gregg, a 26-year-old chef, thinks earlier drinking hours is "brilliant" and will draw out a lot more people.
Technology consultant Mike Lynch, 50, who was having a pint of Okanagan Springs Bavarian lager at The Football Factory, called it a great idea.
Lynch, who will also be cheering on England, just got back from Barbados and said people there were drinking and watching sporting events pretty early.
"At 7 a.m. Formula 1 and football began and they were serving beer on the beach bar," said Lynch, who favours extending Toronto bar hours, but only for special events.
Writer Colin Lee, out walking in downtown Toronto, will be rooting for Spain and gave his thumbs up.
"Considering the games are going to be earlier rather than later, I think it makes sense to give that extra hour for people to get together and become social and enjoy the party," said Lee.
Stephanie Jones, Ontario vice president of The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, noted other cities have relaxed alcohol serving rules during big sporting events such as the Vancouver Olympics.
Jones said the industry is coming out of a significant downturn in 2009 and it would be a great way to kick off the summer season in Toronto.
"Last year our operators were hit with fewer tourists, with a garbage strike, with a lot of things that came together to make it a really, really tough time."
Pantalone said he isn't worried about hooligans causing a ruckus, noting Toronto FC fans always "have good clean fun."
As for fears there could be more drunk drivers on the road, Pantalone noted people can legally drink in their own homes at any time. He said responsible people will behave responsibly.