Liquor steps up to make things a bit better in Vancouver

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      As services go, it might be the most essential of all, especially when one considers the number of people who’ve chosen to access it.

      When historians look back at the great COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll note that liquor gave us a big reason to get out of bed in the morning—even with the screaming hangovers. Booze didn’t make this the best of years—the only thing that will salvage 2020 is a total redo.
      Still, it helped on multiple fronts.

      When British Columbia locked down in the spring, liquor distribution was promptly declared an essential service, to the point where store hours across the province were extended rather than reduced. Remember March and April when—as you adjusted to working from home—happy hour started at 2 p.m.? Making your daily Margarita, Painkiller, or Squashed Strawberry Alley Cat possible were your friendly neighbourhood liquor store clerks.

      Almost unbelievably, politicians at all levels of government stepped up.

      Think about how, ever since the first Model T Ford rolled across the border, British Columbia bureaucrats have worked tirelessly to keep the province drier than Death Valley in the Nevada Desert. Remember when you couldn’t buy a beer anywhere on a Sunday? Or how the world was invited to the 2010 Olympics, and then told liquor stores would be closing at 7 p.m. nightly to avoid people having too good of a time? And how the Symphony of Fire was seen as a valid excuse for police to rummage through the backpacks of you and everyone you know for the Devil’s brew?

      How attitudes have changed.

      As locked-down folks began looking to escape their 360-square-foot condos and East Vancouver garden suites, North Vancouver and Port Coquitlam greenlighted drinking in public parks and plazas.

      In Vancouver, elected park board officials voted to allow concession stands to sell beer, cider, and coolers and to make it okay for Vancouverites to bring their own liquor bottle to public spaces—no brown bag required. (Side note—want to send up a flare that you’re drinking in the park? Make sure you’re drinking out of a brown bag.) The only problem there? That would be drinking in public in Vancouver still has to be approved by the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Act before we can finally move into the, um, 19th century. That’s supposed to happen sometime next year.

      Until then, Parisians will continues to crack open the Beaujolais on the Seine in Paris. Cubans will enjoy Mojitos on the Malecon. But show up on the seawall with a can of Stanley Park Brewing Windstorm Pale Ale and you’d better bring a brown bag. Even though everyone will know exactly what you’re doing.

      At least Vancouver’s civic officials are finally trying. As opposed to asking “What would Mauritanians do?”

      More immediately impactful was the B.C. provincial government approving liquor delivery to those shut in at home. Braver imbibers were also allowed to hit restaurants for takeaway cocktail kits. Suddenly, even if you didn’t know a Mai Tai from a Moscow Mule, you could easily fool those in your bubble. All you had to do was spring for a Juju’s Drink Shack tiki kit featuring rum, house-made mixer, and garnish.

      Whipping up a coconut-and-banana Daiquiri was easy after popping into Dachi on East Hastings. And Roots and Wings Distillery left amateur mixologists locked and loaded with DIY kits for everything from Sidekick Sours to Gin-Ya-Ritas.

      Craft distillers and brewers across the province were amongst the first frontline workers to step up during the pandemic. Odd Society, Parallel 49, Sons of Vancouver, Wayward, Ampersand, Ironworks, and Long Table were among those who began producing much-needed hand sanitizer. If only scoring yeast, flour, and toilet paper in those early days had been so easy.

      One of the biggest dawn-of-the-pandemic liquor challenges in Vancouver was figuring out how to accommodate those most at home when out on a barstool. COVID-19 hit the liquor-service industry hard—bars and restaurants quickly accepted that the rules for public gatherings needed to change overnight. For the first couple of months, that meant closing the doors to wait things out.

      But eventually, resiliency and ingenuity won out. Once again, government officials stepped up. In May it was announced that cafés and breweries could claim street parking and sidewalks for pop-up patios—boosting seating capacity while maintaining social distancing.

      As a result, to sit on Commercial Drive with a Good “Old Fashioned” Lockdown at Bar Corso suddenly made Vancouver feel a little bit like Paris. Fabled cocktail haunts like the Keefer got creative, setting up in an adjacent vacant lot (complete with mini golf course) during the summer, and constructing “cocktail pods” (think wooden mini-walls, complete with what looks like a ship’s porthole, every couple of seats) for the fall migration inside.

      As for what lies ahead, that’s easy—a winter rougher than most thanks to a virus going nowhere anytime soon. At least we’ve got a coping strategy. God bless you, liquor, for all you’ve done to make Vancouver life a little less anxiety-ravaged in 2020. Now pass the bottle.