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The Forks approved for new form of liquor licence

The Forks Market food courts.

BORIS MINKEVICH/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Forks Market food courts.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/5/2015 (1986 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

By the end of the year, you should be able to wander around The Forks Market with a beer in your hand without freaking out the kid behind the mini-doughnuts counter.

This isn’t because The Forks plans to make drastic cuts to security or declare 2015 the "Year of The Tall Boy."

Rather, The Forks Market is the second Manitoba establishment to receive a new form of liquor licence created last year, when the province overhauled regulations governing the way booze is sold by the glass.

In April 2014, a modest package of regulatory reforms standardized the hours alcohol may be sold, eliminated Manitoba’s hated food-to-liquor ratios in restaurants and dropped the number of liquor-service licence categories from a confusing 10 to a more manageable six.

Technically, the newly created Liquor and Gaming Authority dropped the number of licence categories to five: dining rooms, dining rooms with lounges, beverage rooms in hotels, entertainment facilities and "customer/member service" — an umbrella category that encompasses hockey rinks, private clubs and hair salons, among other oddball forms of licensees.

The LGA also created a new licence category called "unique hospitality experience." This is intended to allow the provincial booze regulator to issue licences to facilities that want to sell liquor but can’t be placed into any of the other boxes.

"It recognizes some entrepreneurs come to us with liquor-service proposals that don’t fit into any of our categories," LGA chief administrative officer Elizabeth Stephenson said Tuesday in an interview. "We don’t issue a lot of them. Because they’re unique, they don’t come up that often."

Right off the hop, Manitoba’s casinos were placed within the "unique hospitality" category. The Metropolitan Theatre, a downtown Winnipeg heritage building owned and operated by the Canad Inns hotel chain, became the first Manitoba venue to apply for and receive the special licence.

The Forks Market, which is undergoing a renovation this summer and fall, will reopen in the winter with a unique hospitality licence governing the entire first floor. Visitors will be able to buy a beer or a glass of wine at a kiosk and then wander over to a food stall — or anywhere else on the main floor of the building — without running afoul of booze inspectors, shopkeepers or frightened children.

This freedom to graze with a glass of wine will help The Forks achieve its goal of remodelling its market as a higher-end food court along the lines of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia or Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid.

Both of these venues — and many others in Europe and North America — started as ordinary covered markets, where stalls primarily offered produce, fish, meat, cheese or other grocery items. Over time, restaurant stalls moved in and these markets became culinary destinations in their own right, not to mention major tourist attractions.

The Forks Market has less of a history of functioning as a standard covered market. Making a transition to a slightly more upscale food court is a logical move, provided The Forks ensures most of its stalls remain accessible to middle-class Manitoban budgets. In other words, that new wine kiosk better serve prosecco instead of champagne.

The Forks already has LGA approval to go ahead with its plan. The next unique hospitality licences will be offered to craft-beer tasting rooms, which are expected to sprout up alongside Manitoba breweries over the next couple of years.

No one else has applied for the unique hospitality licence and no one, as of yet, has been turned down, Stephenson said. Typically, prospective licensees talk over their plans with the LGA and can be accommodated by one of the other licence categories.

When the province first announced its new booze regulations, the initial reaction was a yawn. But the modest reforms have already had a noticeable impact in Winnipeg, where restaurant owners are no longer required to sell food at night along with alcohol.

It will be interesting to see how far the LGA is willing to go with the unique hospitality licences.

If The Forks Market can be a free-roaming wine-consumption zone, it’s only a matter of time before a specialty retail store comes forward with a liquor-licensing proposal.

It will be interesting to see creative entrepreneurs test the limits of the new liquor regulator — and how the LGA responds.

 

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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