British Columbia theaters can now serve booze

Alcohol will now be on the menu at theaters in British Columbia after the provincial government reversed its long-standing ban on booze in cinemas.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman, who is responsible for liquor laws, said this week that multiplex theaters can now apply for a license to serve alcohol in theaters that play adult-rated movies and in adjacent lobbies.

He said the theaters must be closed to minors during screenings because it would be difficult to enforce the rules against underage drinking in a dark theater.

"These changes strike an appropriate balance between allowing liquor service at theaters and limiting minors' access to alcohol," Coleman said.

Vancouver's independent Rio Theatre had spearheaded the fight for the liquor control changes. The theater had been granted a liquor license in late January to serve booze at live events, but the venue's owner protested because she was told that her multi-media theater could no longer show movies. In February, she was then told she could show movies if she applied to de-license her venue three weeks in advance of screenings and she could only apply to be de-licensed three or four times a year.

"The whole thing is very confusing for most people to understand. No other venue had been treated that way," said Corinne Lea, the owner of the theater.

Now, she said, "we've got the popcorn and the candy — and we also have draft beer."

Lea said now she's looking at themed nights where moviegoers at screenings of The Big Lebowski could emulate main character "The Dude" and sip his signature White Russians.

The policy change would allow about 30 live-event theaters and 100 movie theaters to serve alcohol.

She called the government change of heart an arrival at "some common sense."

Vancouver's Vogue Theatre also presents many live events, as well as films.

"This change will allow us to better support events such as the Vancouver International Film Festival and other similar productions, which are important to the community," said Vogue operations manager Matthew Gibbons.

Motion Picture Theatre Association of British Columbia president Jeremy Bator said the change will lead to increased jobs, a better guest experience and a more level playing field in Canada's competitive entertainment landscape.

Allan Franey, who works with the Vancouver International Film Festival, said while the festival does serve alcohol at some locations, the film experience is "something very immersive.

"I don't think booze mixes well with certain kinds of films, certain age groups," he said.

The provinces of Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta permit alcohol in movie theaters, with age restrictions.