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Bar infractions tank up

MLCC goes after repeat offenders with fines, licence suspensions

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MLCC goes after repeat offenders with fines and licence suspensions.

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MLCC goes after repeat offenders with fines and licence suspensions. Photo Store

An Irish pub had its doors slammed shut for good after a minor was caught drinking. An African restaurant downtown tried to bar a liquor inspector. Another popular western dance club earned major fines for being too packed with partiers.

Those bars are some of the biggest repeat offenders, shows an analysis of five years of liquor-law infractions covering 2008 to 2012.

Topping the list is Dylan O'Connor's, an Irish pub chain formerly located on Pembina Highway and on Portage Avenue. The Pembina location had the most infractions and is now closed. The pub committed many sins, including several infractions that involved minors consuming alcohol. The pub was also guilty of some less obvious offences such as having live entertainment not approved by the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.

In total, Dylan O'Connor's had its liquor licence suspended for 19 days and earned $19,000 in fines. The pub's licence was revoked in 2011 after a minor was caught drinking.

"We're never happy to see that there are restaurants that are not in compliance," said Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association. "We understand that when you have a liquor licence there's a responsibility that goes with that licence. And if you don't follow the rules, there can be consequences."

The Modern Restaurant & Lounge, an African restaurant on Portage Avenue, also earned eight infractions over five years. Many of those included serving liquor without a meal and during unauthorized hours, being overcapacity, improper billing and even obstructing a liquor inspector. The restaurant lost its licence for a total of 25 days and earned a $2,500 fine.

The third worst repeat offender was Room 720 located on Corydon Avenue. The restaurant also had significant infractions involving overcapacity, failure to remove liquor one hour after closing, failure to vacate the premises one hour after closing and providing false statements to the MLCC about food-to-liquor sales ratios. Inspectors suspended the lounge's licence for a total of 17 days, mandated a staff training session and eventually cancelled the bar's licence outright.

Attempts to reach the owners of Room 720, Dylan O'Connor's and The Modern were not successful.

Repeat offenders tend to earn more attention from liquor inspectors, said Susan Harrison, the senior communications co-ordinator at the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.

"They (liquor inspectors) use a risk-based program to determine the frequency of inspection," said Harrison. Inspectors consider what type of licence is held by the establishment. Establishments that serve primarily liquor are more likely to have frequent inspections.

"They also look at the history of the establishment and if there's been any public complaints," said Harrison. "Nightclubs, for example, would get inspected more frequently than a restaurant where food is the primary item being served."

As a result, if the establishment doesn't try to comply with the Liquor Control Act after its first few infractions, those infractions are just going to keep stacking up. And in some cases, it can result in thousands and thousands of dollars in fines or even a cancelled liquor licence.

The Liquor Control Act was first passed in 1956 and is now widely considered a confusing relic. Last year, the provincial government announced Manitoba would merge its liquor and gaming commissions to save money and is now putting the finishing touches on a bevy of new booze rules that are much simpler.

The updated legislation will include three new licence classes -- covering the service, sale and manufacturing of liquor -- instead of 12. And, it will effectively eliminate the food-to-liquor ratios, the arcane cabaret licence and rigid rules for live-music venues. But penalties for infractions will be stiffer.

"A lot has changed in Manitoba and in the world since 1956, television had just been introduced, the Beatles hadn't been formed as a band yet," said Elizabeth Stephenson, from the new Liquor and Gaming Authority.

"It's shocking to me how we've had this piece of legislation that was created over 50 years ago that has basically archaically framed the service and consumption of liquor in the province."

CLOSING TIME

Serving and selling liquor in Manitoba is serious business. If you don't do it right, you can get shut down.

Three Winnipeg businesses had their liquor licences permanently revoked between January 2008 and July 2013. That effectively closed them down. Before that happens, though, the proprietors can sit before a licensing board and plead their case.

"It's really similar to a court case," said Susan Harrison, senior communication co-ordinator for the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.

A board of five people listens to each case. The evidence is presented from both sides and then the licensee pleads guilty or not guilty. Inspectors make a recommendation, and the board considers how many previous infractions the bar has had and how serious the offence is. Punishment can be as minor as mandatory staff training or as serious as a licence cancellation. Here are the three establishments that suffered the worst punishment over the last six years.

The Kamakura restaurant on Pembina Highway was closed after three violations. First, a manager was caught drinking on the job. Then, the restaurant refused a routine liquor inspection and earned a 21-day suspension. But staff didn't stop serving booze during that time, so the establishment was shut down.

Room 720 was closed after five violations. The Corydon Avenue lounge earned a couple of violations when customers were hanging around later than an hour after closing time. The lounge was also overcapacity twice. It wasn't until staff submitted false documents about liquor-to-food sales ratios that Room 720's doors were closed for good.

Dylan O'Connors on Pembina Highway earned eight violations before being shuttered in 2011. Like most clubs, the pub had a cabaret licence, which comes with the challenge of getting two hours of live, professional entertainment every single night an establishment is open. DJs and karaoke performers don't count. The pub earned a $3,000 fine for not having its entertainment approved by the liquor commission and a three-day suspension for having no live entertainment at all. Five of the pub's violations involved allowing minors in. Dylan O'Connor's was finally shut down when a minor was caught drinking in the bar.

sarashyiak@gmail.com, marney.blunt@gmail.com

Manitoba Liquor Infractions, 2008 to 2012

To use the maps below: Use the zoom controls at left and click and drag on the map to navigate around the maps, then click on any red dot to see details of the establishment and the infraction. 

Winnipeg infractions:

 

See Winnipeg map in a new window.

 Manitoba infractions:

 

See Manitoba map in a new window.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2013 B1

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