Vancouver resident Brian Vidovic envisions patrons of his forthcoming restaurant sitting down for a meal of burgers, beer, and Mario Kart.
But the co-owner and creative director of EXP Restaurant + Bar, slated to open in July at 309 West Pender Street, told the Georgia Straight that the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch is standing in the way of his dream.
That’s because, after Vidovic applied for a food-primary liquor licence, the LCLB stipulated in writing that the use of video-game consoles will be prohibited in the restaurant.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle, because they initially thought it was gambling,” Vidovic said by phone. “I made it very clear that it’s not gambling, and then they just outright said no, because they don’t understand it.”
A former game designer at Radical Entertainment, Vidovic is one of EXP’s three co-owners. Their plans call for video-game consoles and TVs at tables, “game-ready” food that won’t get customers’ hands dirty, and background music from games. The idea is to create a comfortable environment for gamers and people curious about games.
“Video games are a legitimate, interesting, and powerful entertainment medium,” Vidovic said. “We want to just illustrate that in the most profound way possible, by throwing it in what is typically seen as an adult venue. That’s our vision for it.”
More than 2,900 people have signed Vidovic’s online petition calling on the LCLB to allow video games in EXP and other licensed establishments. His fight comes in the wake of the Rio Theatre’s successful, high-profile campaign to reform the provincial liquor-licence rules for movie theatres.
“With your support online, the local community liaisons, MLAs, game and tech companies, restaurateurs, liquor license holders, and other public figures, we hope to change the entire licensing process from 2 licenses (food primary and liquor primary) to a more robust, efficient, and fair system that holds public safety at the highest echelon of importance, rather than the totalitarian control on entertainment based on an out-dated policy,” Vidovic’s petition states.
The B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines, which oversees the LCLB, didn’t make a representative available for comment today (June 13).
According to the LCLB Licensing Policy Manual, last updated in March, “video arcade style games” and other games that require patrons to get up from their tables are not allowed in the licensed areas of food-primary establishments. Meanwhile, Internet-connected computers, and board and card games are permitted, provided they “do not alter the primary focus on the service of food” and can be played by seated customers.
Vidovic asserted that it’s “ridiculous” that EXP is “being screwed” by “archaic” liquor regulations. He noted that the restaurant—which has raised more than $32,000 on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo—will open without video-game consoles if needed.
But Vidovic maintains he won’t give up his fight to change the “silly” rules, which he believes stem from the outdated notion that video games are for kids.
“That’s so wrong,” Vidovic said. “The average age of gamers is 34. It’s not for children anymore, and that’s where they need to update. It’s just an old policy. That’s how I feel about it. Everything needs to be updated with regards to entertainment, specifically video games.”