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WINNIPEG - Manitobans will soon be allowed to drink alcohol at the spa or hairdresser, have a beer in a restaurant without ordering a meal, and possibly imbibe around the clock during special events.
The changes, contained in a bill introduced in the legislature Wednesday, are part of an overhaul of the province's liquor laws, many of which date back to the 1950s.
The aim is to reduce the red tape for business owners while allowing consumers more options, said Gaming Minister Dave Chomiak.
"They'll have more entertainment, more flexibility," Chomiak said.
Most of the changes are aimed at making things simpler for bar and restaurant owners. Ratios of food-to-drink sales will no longer be enforced in restaurants. Live entertainment venues will no longer have to be able to house at least 200 people to be licenced, and they'll be able to use DJs instead of live musicians if they want.
The array of licence categories will be reduced to three from 12, brew pubs will have an easier time getting licenced, and establishments will no longer have to file separate applications for liquor and gambling licences.
For customers, the changes mean no longer having to find a lounge or bar for a quick drink — a restaurant will be able to serve booze without a full meal.
It could also mean longer hours for special events.
"We're going to have flexibility in the regulations so that it's possible that if the Grey Cup's here, that we'll have, who knows, 20-hour opening or 24-hour opening in some location," Chomiak said.
There will also be more relaxed rules for a section of downtown Winnipeg known as the SHED — Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District — although Chomiak said the details have yet to be worked out.
The Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association welcomed the changes as a way to keep customers happy.
"The legislation had just become so crippling because it was just so antiquated," said Scott Jocelyn, the association's executive director.
"If you walk into a building that has a restaurant and a cocktail lounge today, at 10 o'clock at night, the restaurant is empty and the cocktail lounge has a lineup to get in. You know, our customers don't understand that they can't go across and sit in (the restaurant) without ordering a meal."
The changes are expected to be in place before the end of the year, Chomiak said.
Despite the modernization, many rules that govern how booze is consumed are not being changed. Minimum prices and a requirement to have at least three people share a large pitcher of beer will remain in place. The province's ban on all-you-can-drink events, except for private events such as open-bar wedding receptions, will also stay as is.