Vancouver: ‘No Fun City’ No More?

Last year, a handful of changes to B.C.’s liquor laws made life in the Pacific Northwest a bit more fun for grownups who like an alcoholic beverage from time to time. Theaters can now sell alcohol when no minors are present, caterers can apply for liquor licenses, and diners can bring their own bottles of wine to restaurants. These recent amendments, however, may only be the tip of the fun iceberg, as the B.C. government is currently studying additional ways to update rules and regulations regarding alcohol consumption.

The study will look at a variety of issues surrounding liquor, including whether people should be allowed to bring alcoholic beverages to beaches and parks, according to attorney general Suzanne Anton.

Although the results of this study will affect the entire province, this news comes at a time when a certain B.C. city is taking its own steps towards raising the fun quotient. Yes, Vancouver City Council is on a fun-making binge, altering zoning rules to allow craft breweries to run designated tasting rooms and approving launch sights for kitesurfers who were previously banned from practicing their sport on public beaches. Vancouverites can also expect their municipal leaders to extend restaurant patio hours, which currently end at 11:00 p.m.

For now, it’s unclear whether all this will be enough for Vancouver to finally shed the nickname “No Fun City.” Not satisfied with merely beautiful and liveable, there seems to be a newfound vigour among its residents, writers, and politicians to re-brand their home as engaged, exciting, and cool — a “More Fun City,” if you will. Considering that they’re up against some outdated, fun-inhibiting bylaws and property values that many believe price out arts and entertainment, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

But Vancouver is up for the challenge! Resident cool guy and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson is at the forefront of this funning-up movement, waxing easy-going about legalizing marijuana, making appearances at cultural and political events, and even throwing big public festivals.

“Great cities have good parties,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said Thursday, the same day the city announced a two-day celebration for Stanley Park’s 125th birthday that includes licensed beer gardens.

Robertson’s confidence is reassuring, but is that really all it takes? Good parties? What about thriving cultural spaces? Surely, great cities need those, too. How does Vancouver fare on that front?

Well, it’s been a dreadful year for arts and entertainment venues. While the Waldorf Hotel may survive, Waldorf Productions was forced to vacate the property when the building was purchased by a new developer. The production company now has to find new venues for their concerts, art exhibitions, and dance parties. Suitable space for these kinds of events, however, is growing difficult to find, as the city’s single-screen theaters and performing arts venues have either been demolished or repurposed.

The Ridge Theatre, aptly described in the Georgia Straight as an “art-house flagship, the crucible of the Vancouver International Film Festival,” was sold to a development company, which plans to tear it and the bowling alley next door down, then replace it all with condos. Last May, the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts was sold to a church group.

How about a lively entertainment district? Fun cities also have those, right? Unfortunately, Vancouver’s Granville Street, which houses most of the city’s nightclubs, has little to offer in the daytime and turns into a giant frat party when the sun goes down. In Vancouver magazine, Frances Bula paints a vivid picture:

During the day, the clubs are shuttered, creating an unwelcoming wall of dead space. At night, the only businesses apart from the clubs are those offering food that can be thrown up without too much regret.

So Vancouver has a ways to go before it can comfortably say, “You want fun? Well, we’ve got that covered.” Baby steps though, right?

Extended patio hours, the freedom to drink a beer at the park, and more water sports at beaches will surely make Vancouver summers even more delightful than they already are. And come September — come the wind and the rain — Vancouverites can enjoy a pint at their favourite craft brewery or a glass of wine at a film screening. It’s getting there, slowly but surely.

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Mikael Bingham is the Deputy Editor of Ballast.