The Irish Harp will be allowed to operate an alcohol-free outdoor patio until the end of October.
Jovi Jokie, owner and operator of the pub, asked Niagara-on-the-Lake council to permit her patio to continue unlicensed until the end of the year.
Councillors agreed last week to grant permission until the end of October instead, which is when they expect to see a report from staff on the status of a permanent patio program.
“It’s become such an important tool to help us recover from the pandemic,” Jokie told council Sept. 19.
“This is a difficult time for restaurants because of inflation and there’s been a decline in people dining in,” she added.
Jokie said closing the patio for the remainder of the season would result in layoffs.
The Irish Harp’s patio is permitted under the town’s temporary patio program, which was introduced during the pandemic to give restaurants an economic boost.
That program lets restaurants like the Harp encroach on town land to offer additional outdoor seating for diners.
However, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which regulates the sale of alcohol in restaurants, changed its rules for temporary patios in November 2022 and only allows them to serve booze for eight months.
Town clerk Shaunna Arenburg said the Harp opened its temporary patio in January and so will have to operate without serving alcohol if it wishes to continue.
Jokie said her staff will make sure no alcohol is served there.
Coun. Maria Mavridis was one of a couple of councillors concerned about other businesses making similar requests.
“The risk you have to consider is whether or not it's precedent setting,” chief administrator Marnie Cluckie said.
She added that the town has a small bylaw department to assist with compliance.
Coun. Tim Balasiuk, who didn't support the request, said bylaw officers do not work in the evenings and would be unable to respond to a complaint at the Harp if one were to be raised.
“Do we take on the responsibility now when we actually don’t have the bylaw staff?” he said.
Fire Chief Jay Plato said there had been no issues or complaints about the restaurant's patio.
And Coun. Wendy Cheropita said they “should not anticipate” an influx of similar requests because most temporary patios were set to close in November and December.
“It seems to me it’s a low-risk option for us,” she said.
Coun. Nick Ruller withheld his support, arguing there could be unintended consequences in approving the patio without staff input.
Cluckie said the clerk’s office initially permitted the extension but only for a couple weeks.
In addition to compliance and precedent-setting concerns, Cluckie said staff declined the extension because they are in the process of making temporary patios permanent.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor also voted against the extension.
Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report