City restricts patios despite aim to enhance patio culture

Bar owners lament Vancouver patio restrictions 

Pint Public House operations manager Alannah McIntyre is frustrated that her 488-seat bar is unable to have a small patio in the summer | Chung Chow

The Pint Public House’s owners can forget about building a patio.

Counterparts at the nearby Keefer Bar can similarly stop dreaming about converting more inside seats into patio seats at the high-end bar’s spacious patio.

Other entrepreneurs – ones who distil spirits or make beer under a manufacturing licence – are also out of luck if they want to build a patio.

All of this is because Vancouver city council, on June 14, approved staff recommendations that restricted the potential for many patios despite a stated goal to “enhance patio culture.”

“It would be great to have some summertime business,” said Alannah McIntyre, operations manager at the Pint Public House on the corner of West Pender and Abbott streets. “We see a drastic change in sales with hockey being over and the NBA playoffs being over and that is partly because we don’t have a patio.”

The problem for McIntyre is that her pub is in the large and sprawling Downtown Eastside district, where city hall has a moratorium on new patios.

George Affleck, Adriane Carr and Melissa De Genova, at an all-day meeting on various liquor policy changes, were the only councillors to vote against retaining that moratorium.

“Our area has had the stigma for the past 20 or 30 years of being unsafe and unwelcoming for visitors or the rest of the city,” said Landon Hoyt, executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association.

Hastings Crossing is the part of the Downtown Eastside where the Pint Public House is located.

“If you’re going to continue a moratorium that also includes prohibiting patios for us, then you’re only furthering that stigma,” Hoyt said.

(Image: Landon Hoyt is executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association | submitted)

Supporters say the restrictions on patios, which are fused with rules that limit new liquor-primary seats in the Downtown Eastside, will help reduce crime rates in the areas affected.

They also add that a separate city report is expected to be released in the next few months and that this report will deal specifically with patios. So there is a possibility that council will ease patio regulations at that time – toward the end of patio season.

Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said she supported the Downtown Eastside moratorium on new patios and new liquor seats because the area has six liquor-primary seats for every 10 residents – the highest ratio in the city.

Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal left the door open to revisiting the policy and addressed moratoriums on new patios at bars in both the Downtown Eastside and the Granville Entertainment District.

“I’m a huge fan of patios,” Deal said. “I want us to work with the [Granville Entertainment District] working group and look at that. If we end up in the not-too-distant future re-examining the Downtown Eastside, I would be pleased with that as well, but the concerns that have been raised around that neighbourhood are legitimate and need to be taken into account.

Unlike some councillors and city staff, who say patios in the area could fuel street violence, Hoyt said patios provide “eyes on the street” and are likely to reduce area crime.

Area businesses that already have patios are also frustrated.

Keefer Bar principal Keenan Hood has to accept only having 12 seats on his 310-square-foot patio because his bar has a liquor-primary licence. Expansion is not possible because he is on the fringe of the Downtown Eastside. Were he to have a food-primary licence, the city would allow him to serve 24 people outdoors.

“It’s hard for guests to understand why they can’t join their friends on the patio when there’s room,” Hood said in a presentation to council. “We’ve even had reviews on social media about it.”

Council upheld a staff recommendation to prohibit bars from building new patios on Granville Street, although it might revisit that decision soon given that it also created a working group to discuss liquor policy in that district.

In the meantime, however, the group of entrepreneurs that bought a liquor licence at the former Stone Temple Nightclub at 1082 Granville Street and are converting the space to an Irish pub will be unable to build a small patio.

(Image: Here's how councillors voted on the motion to keep the current moratorium on new liquor primary seats and new patios in the Downtown Eastside | City of Vancouver live stream)

“We think it is long overdue to allow liquor-primary businesses in the Granville Entertainment District to build patios,” said Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association CEO Charles Gauthier.

He said he was surprised and disappointed with staff recommendations because they were the opposite of what staff had told him would be in the staff report.

Council did change one policy to encourage more patio space.

Businesses that have not had noise or other complaints and are not in the Downtown Eastside or the Granville Entertainment District will be able to have more than 20% of their seats on a patio. Previously, 20% was the maximum allowed.

Businesses that have at least two washrooms, are in certain parts of the city and have not had complaints about noise can also now have up to 12 additional seats on seasonal patios.

Distillers, however, are out of luck.

(Image: Long Table Distillery owner Charles Tremewen would like the option of having a patio outside his distillery on Hornby Street south of Pacific Boulevard | submitted)

People were calling me on the weekend, asking if we have a patio,” said Long Table Distillery owner Charles Tremewen. 

“I had to say, “No. We’re not allowed to have a patio. No brewery or distiller in Vancouver is allowed to.”•