Ontario to allow bars, restaurants to serve alcohol starting at 7 a.m. for World Cup

TORONTO — Ontario's liquor regulator says restaurants and bars provincewide will be able to serve alcohol at 7 a.m. for the duration of the FIFA World Cup, a change celebrated by a Toronto restaurant owner who had publicly called on the province to bring in the change.

Rocco Mastrangelo, co-owner of Café Diplomatico in Toronto, said the move would help coax customers to enjoy the early-morning games at the Little Italy restaurant mainstay he has dubbed "soccer headquarters".

"I think there's going to be a lot more people out and about for those early games," he said in an interview Friday. "Someone was listening at the AGCO."

The eight-hour time difference with tournament host country Qatar means some Ontario fans will tune in next week for first-round games starting at 5:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.

After Nov. 28 the earliest games start at 10 a.m., but the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario extension will still apply to all liquor sales licensees until the end of the tournament on Dec. 18.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said earlier this week he would ask the newly-elected city council, set to convene for the first time Thursday, to vote on the proposal to extend liquor service to 8 a.m. But by Thursday, four of the tournament's eight matches scheduled for 8 a.m. would have already been played.

"So it was important that we get it in at the start of the tournament," said Mastrangelo. "It just shows that Toronto has the willingness to be, again, open-minded, accommodating."

Mastrangelo said the move also prevents the "logistic nightmare" of bringing in customers for an 8 a.m. match, but only being able to start serving them liquor at 9 a.m.

The regulator, which reports to Ontario's attorney general, said it would respect any request from a municipality that wants the start of liquor service to stay at 9 a.m. in their jurisdiction.

While establishments don't need to apply for the extension, the regulator said each is responsible for checking whether their municipality has objected to the extension.

In a notice on its website, the AGCO said although temporary extensions are not typically provided for events taking place outside the province, it recognizes the World Cup, "is an event of international significance for many communities in Ontario and is one of the most watched sporting events in the world."

Back in 2018, the regulator made a similar move to extend service to 9 a.m. from 11 a.m. for the duration of that year's tournament.

Meanwhile, most fans attending the tournament in person in Qatar won't be able to purchase booze. The country, which heavily restricts alcohol sales, made a last-minute decision Friday to ban beer sales at stadiums.

-- With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2022.

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press