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No Olympic boost for most bars as Sochi time difference presents challenge

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The big screens may be broadcasting the latest from Sochi, the beer may be ready to flow, but bars hoping for a big boost from the Winter Olympics have had to grapple with a tricky time difference that has many Canadians cheering on their favourite athletes from their homes or offices instead of their favourite watering hole.

For a number of sports bars, just how much of a crowd the Olympics are drawing depends on which part of the country they're in.

Things appear to be going well in Halifax where, despite the eight hour time difference with Sochi, customers are flocking to Bubba Ray's sports bar to get their Olympic fix.

"We're not hurting at all. We're packed for everything," said general manager Woody Menear, whose bar boasts some 60 screens.

The bar's evening crowd, which watches Olympic re-runs, has brought in average sales, but live day-time events, particularly women's and men's hockey, have drawn audiences comparable to the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010, said Menear.

"We're very patriotic people in Halifax so we've been fortunate to have great fans and great customers who come back all the time," he said.

As Canada's much-watched hockey teams advance, the Halifax bar, which secured a special liquor licence, is prepared to open as early as 6 a.m. for key games to serve eager fans.

"We'll be live here in Halifax serving beer whenever they come," said Menear. "We expect our crowds to get huge."

Meanwhile in Toronto where the time difference with Sochi is nine hours, bars aren't seeing as much traffic as they did during the Vancouver Games, but the Olympics are still drawing somewhat of a crowd.

"We definitely are getting people to come in to watch it, no matter that it is in Sochi and the time difference is so big," said Adrienne Barnhardt, general manager at Wayne Gretzky's Toronto sports bar. "It's not 2010 but still, you can feel the energy, people are really excited to be cheering on Canada."

Events that have been airing live during the work day in particular, have drawn an audience.

"We've seen a lot of people who are taking long lunches. Definitely office people that are able to manipulate their schedule a little bit so they can enjoy cheering on the team," said Barnhardt.

The downtown Toronto bar, which boasts 37 high definition televisions, also plans to open early if the Canadian hockey teams reach the finals in Sochi.

"It doesn't matter that the game starts at 7 a.m. I think people will be excited," said Barnhardt, adding the bar plans to serve food and non-alcoholic beverages.

"It comes once every four years so let's get up, let's get out early, let's have some coffee and some brunch and cheer on Canada."

Toronto bars may also be able to serve liquor starting at 6 a.m. during the final days of the Olympics if a special motion from a city councillor is passed at a meeting on Thursday.

Further west, the Garage sports bar in downtown Calgary wasn't planning on opening extra early for the big games later this week, but did note a rise in day-time traffic.

"We have a lot of corporate customers," said event co-ordinator Stephanie Bender, who noted the bar started drawing patrons around 10:30 a.m. when the men's hockey team played last week.

"We've been fairly busy, everything's been running smoothly. The Olympics are for sure bringing in a lot."

Bars in British Columbia, however, appear to be hurting the most.

A 12-hour time difference with Sochi means many key events are over before most West Coasters even begin their days. The highly anticipated men`s gold medal hockey game, for instance, will start at 4 a.m. in Vancouver on Sunday.

"It's just really hard, frankly, to convince people at 4:30 a.m. to go anywhere. If anything, they're maybe waking up and rolling over and turning on the TV in their bedrooms," said Ian Baillie, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of British Columbia.

"This time around it's really just not working and it really all just comes down to the time change. "

Calling early-morning Olympic crowds at B.C. bars sparse to non-existent, Baillie said establishments in Western Canada were simply a victim of the tricky time difference.

"I think everyone had a great 2010 experience...I mean it was an exceptional time here," he said. "Clearly Sochi is not even close to that."

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