Toronto mayor backs early booze sales at bars, restaurants during World Cup

Toronto Mayor John Tory backed a plan Wednesday to allow restaurants and bars to serve alcohol earlier than usual during the FIFA World Cup, saying it would provide a boost to the city's pandemic-stricken restaurant industry.

But the plan – which some restaurant and bar owners have been proposing in the leadup to the soccer tournament – will only be voted on next Thursday, after many early matches would already have been played at the soccer tournament being hosted in Qatar.

Tory's proposal would permit alcohol sales to begin at 8 a.m., an hour ahead of the provincial standard, for the duration of the World Cup, which runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18.

The move will help the local restaurant industry, Tory said, giving them a way to benefit from World Cup celebrations across Toronto.

"Toronto’s restaurant industry and small businesses were severely impacted by COVID-19 and suffered under extended closures and significant restrictions," Tory wrote in a letter to councillors outlining the plan.

"We must continue to find unique opportunities to ensure our establishments can come back stronger than ever and to support jobs."

But one Toronto restaurant owner who had been pushing for the plan said it should have been brought forward sooner.

"The city missed it," said Rocco Mastrangelo, co-owner of Little Italy restaurant Café Diplomatico, which has dubbed itself "soccer headquarters" and opens at 8 a.m.

"It's not the end of the world, but it would be nice if they can get it done by the 21st," to align with the first early-morning game, he said.

Canada qualified for the World Cup this year for the first time since 1986.

The eight-hour time difference with tournament host-country Qatar means some Toronto fans will tune in next week for first-round games starting at 5:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. But after Nov. 28, the earliest games start at 10 a.m.

Despite his reservations about the timing of Tory's proposal, Mastrangelo celebrated the move, saying it could be the difference for some fans deciding whether to watch a match at home or at his restaurant.

"People are definitely going to be coming out to watch the games and cafes, restaurants and pubs. And I think it would be nice to start serving at 8 a.m.," said Mastrangelo, whose father opened Café Diplomatico in 1968.

"It might sway them to come down rather than staying home and watching the game

Mastrangelo said he has not entirely given up hope the rules could be changed in time for the start of World Cup action. Back in 2018, the provincial agency responsible for liquor regulations extended service to 9 a.m. from 11 a.m. in Ontario for the duration of that year's tournament.

Mastrangelo said the city's willingness to amend the rules for the upcoming tournament is important for "businesses that suffered through COVID."

It's also validated Toronto as a good choice as one of the 16 cities to host 2026 World Cup matches, he said.

"I think it shows that we really are a great city to be hosting such a great event."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2022.

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press