Commercial Drive institution Fets Whisky Kitchen set to close as legal fight continues

·4 min read
Eric, left, and Allura Fergie, the longtime owners of Fets Whisky Kitchen, are stepping away from the restaurant business in December. But they'll still be keeping busy promoting specialty whisky and fighting the B.C. liquor branch in court. (Josh Grant/CBC - image credit)
Eric, left, and Allura Fergie, the longtime owners of Fets Whisky Kitchen, are stepping away from the restaurant business in December. But they'll still be keeping busy promoting specialty whisky and fighting the B.C. liquor branch in court. (Josh Grant/CBC - image credit)

The longtime owners of Fets Whisky Bar, a literal library of specialty whiskies on Vancouver's Commercial Drive, will be leaving the restaurant business behind in December after a 36-year run.

Eric and Allura Fergie will be hosting a series of whisky pairing dinners, with their first since early 2020 set for Sunday, Sept. 11. The two have been working in the service industry since their teens and say the pandemic helped them realize it was time to slow down.

"My partner is also my wife, and we will both be unemployed," said Eric Fergie with a laugh in an interview with CBC.

"We don't want to end up being that bitter old couple that still runs a restaurant."

He and Allura will still be sampling whisky and working with a few whisky organizations to promote quality spirits and teach people how to craft them.

Fergie says they're open to handing over the reins if someone's interested in buying the business, but so far, the plan is to close the doors and say a final goodbye to their staff on Dec. 23.

Allura Fergie says she has mixed feelings.

"[I'm] excited for what the future holds, but sad because we're not going to be on the Drive anymore," she said in an interview.

The two plan to travel North America in a newly purchased RV and spend more quality time with their three sons, two young grandchildren and several nieces and nephews when they're not on the road.

"I have a big family," she said. "I love kids, and I want to watch them grow and watch them go for their own dreams."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Long history

Fets Whisky Bar started in 1986 as a pasta bar called Fettucine's Café. In 1996, it moved from a cramped hole-in-the-wall-style restaurant to a larger location on the other side of the street at 1230 Commercial Drive.

"Our regulars just shortened it and called it Fets," said Eric Fergie, explaining how the name then became Fets Pasta Bar.

The new space led to a growing whisky collection and a realization that people were coming for more than just food.

In 2012 it rebranded as Fets Whisky Kitchen, boasting the largest collection in Canada.

Fergie says the people he and his wife have met along the way are what they'll cherish the most.

"We've made some incredibly life-long relationships," he said. "We have friends that we've known since the restaurant first opened — many of them."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Legal battle

The couple may be leaving the restaurant behind, but they're forging ahead in a legal battle with the British Columbia Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB). In 2018, Fets and three other B.C. bars were raided by liquor branch inspectors.

 

Hundreds of bottles of specialty whisky that were legally imported but purchased from private retailers were confiscated, and the couple took the province to court after the LCRB upheld its initial decision.

"We know that we were wronged by the agency, by the inspectors. And we will fight to the end to prove that," said Eric.

Eric says B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nathan H. Smith ruled last December that they were "denied procedural fairness" and ordered the province to share all of the documents relating to the case with the couple.

Almost 300 pages of files released two years ago have now been unredacted, but Eric says they mention "emails and conversations" he and his wife haven't been able to review.

"Our lawyer feels that he has what he needs to move this forward. But Allura and I feel that we have the right to see all [of it]," he said.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Eric says the 242 bottles of whisky taken from his shelves were taxed and purchased in B.C., and he feels they should be returned.

Ultimately, he hopes the litigation will make life easier for other bar and restaurant owners.

"Our goal is to leave this industry in better shape than we arrived in it."

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Public Safety Ministry — which oversees the liquor branch — said it would not be commenting as the matter is still before the courts.