Bar owners want flexibility on COVID-19 rules with Montreal Canadiens in playoffs

Bar owners in Quebec are calling for the province to allow them to stay open later as the Montreal Canadiens begin a playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night, which will see some games start at 9 p.m.

They say that with the late start, games could continue past Quebec’s midnight bar closing time.

“I can’t throw people out in overtime,” said Ziggy Eichenbaum, the owner of Ziggy’s Pub in downtown Montreal. “I’m going to ask everybody to leave, I’ll have a riot.”

Bars across Quebec were allowed to reopen for indoor service on Monday, as regions that had been orange zones on the province’s pandemic alert system were downgraded to yellow. Bar patios in those regions were allowed to reopen on Friday. In some parts of the province, including Montreal, bars had been closed since the end of September.

However, restrictions remain, including an 11 p.m. last call and requirement that all patrons be out of the establishment by midnight.

“I am worried,” said Bruno Verrillo, the owner of Bruno Sport Bar in Montreal’s Petite-Patrie neighbourhood, about the possibility that people will have to leave before the game is over. “It would be bad for the customers, that’s for sure.”

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Verrillo said in an interview Monday that he’d like see closing hours extended — at least when the Canadiens are playing.

Renaud Poulin, the CEO of La Corporation des proprietaires de bars, brasseries et tavernes du Quebec, a bar owners association, said his group is calling for bars to be allowed to continue serving until midnight and to be able to stay open until 2 a.m., at least if the game is still on.

“We’re asking for some flexibility from the government,” he said in an interview Monday.

Poulin, who is also the owner of Resto Bar La Chope in Chateauguay, Que., south of Montreal, said he worries Monday night’s game will start late and that fans could find themselves having to leave a close game when there’s still five to 10 minutes left in the third period.

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Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters that discussions are ongoing with public health about allowing bars and restaurants to stay open later — and about allowing more fans to attend home games in person.

However, he said public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda is being prudent. “The United States should not be our benchmark,” he added.

But even with the early closing time, bar owners say they’re happy to be open.

“We’re in the semifinals, the Canadiens are in and we ain’t complaining about anything. Whatever we can get, we’ll be happy with that,” Eichenbaum said.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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