When Oliver was two years old we shared a Coca-Cola with a bunch of Thai prostitutes on a restaurant patio in Chiang Mai. When he was three years old we spent two weeks in Spain where our evening routine consisted of tapas at 4:00 p.m., drinks at 6:00 p.m. and supper at 10:00 p.m., much of this conducted in smoky, boozy, lively places. When he was five years old we spent a month in France, and on our first night we ate supper at a soulful pizza place in Orleans where a drug deal was going down at the next table over. When Oliver was eight years old we spent a transcendent night in a café in Paris where much wine was consumed, to the point where it fell on his wee shoulders to walk me home to the hotel.
As near as I can tell, despite his late-night boozy, smoky, prostitute-filled childhood, Oliver has top-flight morals, and is no more likely to lie, cheat, or steal than the next guy. I would perhaps even say that because of his late-night boozy, smoky, prostitute-filled childhood Oliver has a greater appreciation for the richness of the human experience, and as a result is a wiser, more rounded person that he would have been if he’d been kept cloistered.
And yet tonight.
Tonight we — Catherine, me and Oliver — decided to go down to the Churchill Arms, a curry pub around the corner from our place, for dinner. It was getting late — just after 8:30 p.m. — but we were all hungry and tired after an afternoon of canoeing in Johnstons River.
Alas the visions of butter chicken and chips dancing in our heads were dashed when we were told that Churchill Arms’ liquor license wouldn’t allow minors on the premises after 8:00 p.m. They were very nice and apologetic about it, and of course it’s a matter outside of their control so we bid them no ill will.
But. Come on. It’s 2009.
What did we do instead? Walk 3 blocks up and 1 block over and ate at the Alibi Lounge.
They have a liquor license too, but their license allows minors on the premises until 10:00 p.m. Why this was any less corrupting of Oliver’s morals than watching the same alcohol being consumed a few blocks away, I cannot explain.
Our experience at the Churchill tonight echoes a similar experience from two years ago. We are longtime Lennie Gallant fans, and when a visit from my parents coincided with a Lennie concert at the Silver Fox Curling Club in Summerside, we got tickets for the whole family. On the appointed night we arrived to pick up our tickets, Oliver in tow, and were told that Oliver couldn’t join us as it was a “licensed event.”
Prince Edward Island does have a rather tortuous relationship with the demon alcohol. There were prohibition plebiscites in 1878, 1893, 1898, 1901, 1923, 1929, 1940, and 1948. It was only the last one that saw prohibition come to an end. Well, at least partially. We still have a 17,000-word Liquor Control Act along with 15,000 words of associated regulations, that together are, as our experiences suggest, a very complex web.
In there you’ll find, among other things, clauses allowing doctors, dentists and veterinarians to be issued permits to dispense alcohol, a definition of liquor that includes, among other things, “any other liquid that is intoxicating,” descriptions of the 12 classes of liquor license allowed (club, dining room, military canteen, lounge, brewer’s, special premises, caterer’s, winery, tourist home, distiller’s, brew-pub and micro-brewery), a prohibition against counters and stools in dining rooms (along with an associated requirement for table-cloth use), and requirement for tourist home license holders to provide “personalized hospitality.”
And that’s only a thin slice of the hard-core needless draconian overkill that we’ve constructed around the serving of alcohol in Prince Edward Island.
Prohibition may have given way 61 years ago, but its vestiges live on. While the over-the-top parts of the regulation of alcohol have been chipped out of the act over the years, and while modern innovations like “wineries” have been allowed to operate recently, the substantive core of the Island’s official stance on alcohol is, essentially, “this stuff is bad for you, and we’re going to make it really, really difficult and complex for it to be sold, just to drive this point home.”
Does anybody really think that’s still a good idea?
So here’s my idea. Throw the Liquor Control Act away. All of it.
Continue to tax alcohol, but let anyone sell it. Any time of the day. With any degree of hospitality. With the option of having counters and stools if they like. One class of license, for tax-collection purposes only. Leave the morality right out of it. Drinking and driving is still against the law, as is serving alcohol to someone who’s obviously too drunk to have any more.
I’ll bet I could pen up a set of laws that would fit on a single sheet of paper that would make almost any reasonable person comfortable. And I’ll bet that when Pete’s Go Wild with Alcohol Act passes the morals of Prince Edward Islanders will be as intact as they were before.
Am I missing something?