Let’s all drink until dawn

Canadians aren’t the coolest kids on the block, and our early-closing bars are to blame

Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency

Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency

In 2011, a social networking website called Badoo conducted a survey about the perceived “coolness” of various nationalities around the world. Its results were unsurprising: respondents ranked Americans the coolest people on earth, followed by Brazilians, the Spanish and Italians. The Belgians, Poles and Turks, meanwhile, took gold, silver and bronze on the survey’s corresponding “uncool” list. Where did we rank? In fourth, right behind them. That’s right: so uncool are Canadians that we failed to place in the top three on the uncool list—a distinction that could have been at least, ironically cool, in a hipster sort of way. When the survey results were released, Badoo’s director of marketing, Lloyd Price, told Reuters that America ranked coolest because its celebrities are the most well-known internationally. The uncool countries, he argued, just didn’t have enough star power to make the cut. (Justin Bieber may be universally recognizable but he is not, contrary to his recent Instagram activity, the modern James Dean.)

Price was probably right to an extent, but there may be another reason behind Canada’s perceived lack of cool; one that has little to do with a dearth of world superstars, and a lot to do with our bars. The great cities of the world’s coolest countries do not sleep. Most of our cities, however, are in bed by 2:30 a.m., thanks to “last call” liquor laws that dictate the annoyingly early hour at which a licensed establishment must stop serving booze. In metropolises like New York City, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong, nightlife doesn’t adhere to an early-to-bed bar curfew. But in many of Canada’s urban centres—cities like Toronto, Calgary and Halifax—it is nearly impossible to party at a licensed establishment in the middle of the night. There are some exceptions to this rule of institutionalized lameness, including Newfoundland where last call is 3 a.m., ditto for Vancouver and Montreal; Montreal’s mayor would like to see drinking hours extended to 6 a.m. (Quebec may have its fair share of highly uncool cultural markers: xenophobia, voter suppression, Just for Laughs gags. But at least its people know how to party.)

Hopefully soon, Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton will follow suit. In late February, Alberta relaxed its last-call rules for the Sochi Olympic men’s gold-medal hockey final, enabling Albertans to watch the game at a bar in the early hours of the morning. Toronto did the same thing under Section 62 of the Liquor Licence Act, which permits the city to extend “the hours of [alcohol] sale during events of municipal, provincial, national or international significance.” None of the cities self-destructed as a result.

Police in Calgary and Edmonton weren’t overwhelmed with outbreaks of crime when Albertans walked out of their bars drunk and happy after Canada beat Sweden in the gold-medal game. In fact, so successful was the temporary liquor law relaxation in Alberta, for businesses and patrons alike, that provincial Finance Minister Doug Horner said he’d work with Alberta Gaming and Liquor Corp. to review the law. This is exactly what Jeff Tchadjeu and Chris Spoke, two Toronto activists, would like to see occur in Canada’s largest city, where they’ve started LastCallTO, an online movement and petition—with 4,000 signatures and counting—advocating for a 4 a.m. last-call time in Toronto. Tchadjeu argues that a later last call would likely prevent binge drinking because rowdy bar patrons would feel less pressure to overindulge before the 2 a.m. marker, and illegal after-hours venues—many rife with hard drug use—would wane in popularity. (In 2012, Fredericton bar owners complained that the city’s 2 a.m. “hard cut-off” was pure chaos, because patrons would pour into the streets all at once, wasted.) If New York City isn’t “falling apart,” says Tchadjeu, “I don’t see why Toronto would.”

It wouldn’t, because time of night—or day—is irrelevant where inebriated hooliganism is concerned. The Vancouver hockey riots of 2011 broke out well before midnight and, according to police filings, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (who opposes LastCallTO) smoked what looked like crack with known drug dealers in the middle of the afternoon on Family Day last year. Those opposed to later last-call times, including Andrew Murie, the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, believe that later legal drinking hours may contribute to increased incidents of impaired driving (70 per cent of people charged with impaired driving offend shortly after frequenting a licensed establishment). Yet Statistics Canada research released last year shows that Quebec, despite its later last-call times, has the second-lowest rate of impaired driving incidents in the country. The correlation between frequenting a bar after two in the morning and driving drunk simply isn’t there.

Extended drinking hours are, in the end, completely in sync with Canada’s civilized, squeaky-clean image. We tend to pace ourselves and we’re proudly very polite. We aren’t a nation of brutish teenagers deserving of a 2 a.m. curfew. Would that our liquor laws represented that fact.

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Let’s all drink until dawn

  1. Nice to see our youth taking on one of the greatest questions of our times.

  2. Okay so drinking laws in Canada are more strict than elsewhere, but the author doesn’t make a very good case for how that is related to a study about coolness. The arguments he gives are that bars in big “cool” cities like New York, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv are allowed to serve alcohol later, yet aside from New York which is in the the U.S. – ranked #1 in coolness – neither Tel Aviv nor Hong Kong are in the top four “cool” nations. Also, for your information I am from Halifax and I can tell you that there are several bars open until 3:30am with last call at 3am. This article is full of weak arguments at best and poor journalism.

  3. Ah Emma; there you go again. A totally juvenile subject and conclusion on your part.
    Like David Bowie said “I’ve seen so much cool I’ve grown cold from it”
    I guess by keeping the bars open until 6:00 am Canadians can be more cool or ‘with it’ in your perception of the world. Your editor (and I’ve mentioned this before) must scratch his/her head on the inconsistancy of your articles.
    You seem to show flashes of good mature journalism but the following week you seem to fall off the wagon of good writing such as the nonsense in the ‘drinking article–coolness’ above.
    We’re pulling for you but please sit down with your editor and determine who should go on holiday from MacLean’s for the continual inconsistancy in your writing career. Readers deserve no less.

    • I think Meghand and Sully both missed the point of this article. It never really has to do with the point of us being cool or uncool, that is just a heading we give people when we’re young and immature. The real point of the matter is the closing times of our bars and whether or not they are affecting our behavior as Canadians.
      I think the author makes some really good points: The later last call times are happening all over the world, it is not just in New york, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong. Go to any city in Europe and you will find that at any point in the day or the night, there is a bar selling alcohol. And if you don’t find a bar, with a little bit of walking you will come upon a kebab shop or store that will be happy to sell you a beer, whatever the time. The residents of these countries are accustomed enough to know that one beer will not make you go over the limit. However, restrain the time frame to a certain time of night (2am for example) and now kids have a set time where they will be cut off from what they really want. As a result, they drink and drink and drink until it hits them all at the same time. Next thing you know, you’ve got a bunch of drunk adolescents who don’t know how to control themselves roaming the streets. At this time they are not tired, so they ponder the idea of driving themselves home (which many still do). However! If you don’t restrain them to a certain time of night, they can pace themselves and drink to the point they feel is necessary, without being pressured by the clock. It happens all to often that 2am approaches and everyone starts double fisting beers and throwing back shots, because after that, you’re cut off. It becomes easier to understand your limit of alcohol if you have the time to let it kick in. Kids are often told that they don’t know their limit. However, sometimes it’s not always the limit of alcohol, but the time frame in which they drink it.

      It’s sad to be part of a country where the government does not trust it’s people to be responsible. We have all these programs such as MADD because we simply can not trust our residents. But sometimes it’s not their fault. We are smart. We know how to control ourselves. But we also look to have a good time. And if you tell us that that good time is over at 2am, well then by god are we gonna drink all we can until 2am.

      I personally think these laws should be changed. However, who can say how us as Canadians will respond? Will we take advantage of it? or will we accept it and drink responsibly. The next question we should ask ourselves: Drinking in public, now that’s cool. Before you fly off the handle, take a look at Europe. You can walk in front of the Colosseum in broad daylight drinking a beer and nobody is gonna harp you for it. Now that’s freedom. As long as you’re not drinking a 40 of vodka, I think we can all handle a beer or two, in moderation.