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2010 Villain: Beer Gardens

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Illustration by Roxanne Ignatius/Torontoist.


Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.


It may be a long way off, but, darn, if we can’t help thinking about summer. The sun, the shade, the ferry rides, and the free-and-easy biking. Maybe we’ll take in some live music on Toronto Island or at Yonge-Dundas Square. Front row centre, legally procured alcoholic beverage in hand…wait. Scratch that last part.
It’s a truth as bitter as beer’s delicious hops that bopping to your favourite band (that’s what kids do, right? They bop?) in an outdoor setting while enjoying a smart cocktail is seriously restricted in Ontario. It’s something we’ve come to accept. So we file into licensed, designated drinking areas (more commonly: “beer gardens”) and commiserate with our thirsty peers. But at last July’s Olympic Island Concert, a show that saw local heroes Broken Social Scene opening for reunited indie gods Pavement, the situation changed from acceptable nuisance to near chaos. (Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it sure wasn’t pleasant.)
Those angling for a refreshing beer had to wait in line to enter the beer garden, then wait in another line to exchange money for tickets, and then wait yet again to exchange said tickets for beer. It was, especially by the reckoning of those who spent upwards of an hour navigating the three-tiered beer retrieval procedure, a disaster of absurd proportions.
“When you’re doing a large event outside, these things can sometimes get out of control,” Lisa Murray, a spokesperson for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, explained to Torontoist. While the easiest thing to do in a situation like this is to point an unsteady finger in the direction of some abstract idea of The Law (“The Man won’t let me do it, man!”), and Eye has made the case that the province is most at fault, the responsibility for delineating the space of the licensed area, as well as managing the flow of people entering and exiting it, falls in the hands of the promoter. In the Island concert’s case, that means Collective Concerts.
Now, we’re not out to demonize Collective Concerts. In the wake of the Olympic Island snafu—which Collective co-owner Jeff Cohen blamed on a busted beer-tap pump—they did step up their game considerably for the Arcade Fire show a few weeks later. “For future shows, we will use the Arcade Fire model so everything runs much smoother,” Cohen told us in an email. “I don’t think anyone waited more than ten minutes, period, for a beer.”
However smooth, beer gardens remain an endemic problem at outdoor concerts, from V-Fest to Wakestock. And it’s especially grating when we hear reports of festivals in Montreal, like Heavy MTL or Osheaga, where anyone with the proper wristband can roam Parc Jean-Drapeau with beer(s) in hand. The obvious answer may be for concert promoters to extend their Special Occasion Permit to the entire venue, but as Murray notes, “We have not had this great cry from promoters to make the whole thing licensed,” as doing so means more risks, more security, more costs, and more headaches for everyone running the show.
Maybe labyrinthine beer line-ups are the kind of thing we’re just going to have to keep suffering. But we don’t like ‘em. The way we see it, there are two options: either write a letter to your MPP, or do what the kids do and smuggle the liquor into the show in your tummy. (Note: Torontoist does not officially endorse this second option.)

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