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Bar owners say drinkers going underground

Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 13/06) - Bars owners say smokers are drinking at so-called "garage bars" where patrons can light up free of persecution under the city's two-year-old anti-smoking bylaw.

Gold Range owner Richard Yurkiw said he's been to a couple himself.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Gold Range owner Richard Yurkiw said he's been to a couple of "garage bars" himself.

NNSL Photo/graphic


  • According to Statistics Canada, total sales at restaurants, taverns and caterers in the NWT were up 12.2 per cent in October 2005 to $6.651 million compared to $5.929 million in October 2004.
  • According to territorial government figures, restaurant, caterer and tavern receipts totalled $5.771 million in October 2003.
  • The NWT Bureau of Statistics shows sales of alcoholic beverages in the Territories on the rise, hitting $3.879 million in August 2005. That amounts to 447,000 litres of spirits, wine, beer, coolers and ciders.

  • "There's cards, jamming with musicians, all kinds of things," said Yurkiw.

    "I know one guy has a shuffle board, another guy might have a pool table.

    "This was unheard of two years ago, nothing at all. (City Hall) has created a brand new industry."

    The city's bylaw, passed in October 2003, prohibits smoking in indoor public places. Businesses can be fined up to $5,000. Fines for individuals can reach a maximum of $500.

    Yurkiw said the garage bars are mainly a bring-your-own-beer sort of thing, but wouldn't be surprised if some keep a fridge stocked with beer where patrons chip in a few bucks to pay for it.

    Bob Ross, owner of Jose Locos, said he hasn't been to one, but was told some charge for a "membership" or request a fee at the door.

    "They charge a $25 cost to get in the door, then $5-a-beer kind of thing," said Ross.

    "You can sit there and smoke as you wish."

    Such activities would be illegal under the territorial Liquor Act but RCMP Sgt. Darcy Fleury said he isn't aware of any of these clubs.

    "That's the first I've heard of it," he said.

    Yurkiw and Ross say these underground drinking clubs are being run out of private warehouses.

    Yurkiw said there could be as many as a dozen open for business on weekend nights.

    He said unlike in his bar, there is no control over how much someone drinks in the warehouse clubs.

    "How are they going to control the drinking and driving?" Yurkiw asked.

    "At least here, we see you, we'll cut you off, we'll get you a cab."

    Last year, the NWT Liquor Commission reported that overall liquor sales for 2004 were up $1.4 million while sales to bars were down $602,000 from 2003, fuelling bar owners' beliefs that the bylaw is keeping people at home or in illicit clubs so they can smoke and drink.

    Gordon Wray, co-owner of the Black Knight pub, said the garage bars, along other smokers who just stay home, have hurt his business.

    After an initial 30 per cent drop in sales following the smoking ban, they are still 15 per cent below their original take.

    "We don't see an up-surge of new people coming out to the bars," said Wray.

    "All these people said they're going to go out to the bar because there's no smoking. Well, they didn't materialize."

    Now he's coming to grips with increases to garbage pick-up rates that have climbed 1,000 per cent since last month, Wray said.

    Many businesses saw commercial garbage rates increase this month after the city decided to cut it out of their contract with Kavanaugh Brothers waste removers.

    "I've just seen my garbage go from $44 a month to $400 in the middle of winter," said Wray.

    "Well, thanks a lot guys. There doesn't seem to be any support for the small business community from city council whatsoever."

    Mayor Gord Van Tighem said no one at City Hall has heard of the garage bars, but added the city remains committed to the anti-smoking bylaw.

    "If they do exist it sounds like they're doing it very quietly and happily," said Van Tighem. "The world isn't going to be fully legislated."