Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Boozeblogging!

Two booze-related stories from last week have a distant connection which I hope to make within a few paragraphs. One, GlobalTV Calgary uncovered what appears on the surface to be blatant race discrimination by bouncers for at least one downtown Calgary bar. And two, Tarantino links to a Globe piece by U of Waterloo professor Mohamed Elmasry opining that Canadian campuses should ban alcohol outright.

The Global piece appears to have some legs, evidenced by the existence of follow-up stories (including reaction from Premier Ralph), and especially by the avalanche of comments at the bottom of the original piece. Just from the truncated beginnings to these comments, it's obvious that the majority range between offended and outraged.

As am I, if not surprised. I saw the piece myself, and basically I believe my lying eyes. The two gentlemen were denied entry for no apparent good reason while other men and women were granted access. Paul Vickers' explanation, after the fact, was that the bouncer believed one of the men was a known criminal from Vancouver known as Buddha; unfortunately for him, the Vancouver cops pulled a "General Pinkley" from The Dirty Dozen - "nehh-ver heard of 'im".

The reason I bring this up, though, is not for another kick at Paul Vickers and his very popular businesses. It's to warn against the government, particularly the Alberta Human Rights Commission, attempting to "fix this problem" by getting more involved. It would be dangerous, and that's exactly the appropriate word.

Bars are unique places of business, especially downtown dance bars. Face these facts, all:
  • Young people both congregate and drink to excess
  • Many young men are prone to violence and generally poor behavior under the influence
  • Many young people have extremely poor judgement, especially when drunk
  • People who are predisposed to anti-social and/or criminal behaviour seek out these congregations
The best, and only, people who are equipped to bring any kind of civility to these proceedings are the proprietors and doormen of the bars. They have to be the boss, without caveats. Once outside agents start telling bars who they have to let in, let stay, serve drinks, etc., "the house" is not the boss anymore, and it is not an exaggeration to say that chaos and violence would follow.

I'm glad that Global caught Tantra Night Club denying admission to a man because he was wearing a turban. The proper reaction to this, for anyone discriminated against and those of us sympathetic to them, is to deny Tantra and its affiliated clubs our patronage.

What does this have to do with campus bars? Well, similar to universities and their affiliated groups giving out free condoms, they acknowledge the realities of 18 to 22-year-old life, and attempt to mitigate the worst consequences.

I'll commit a logical fallacy and cite my alma mater as typical. (Virtually all campus bars resemble the following in some way.) The university holds the liquor licenses for the campus bars, and imposes some additional operation restrictions on the bars, above and beyond the province (reduced hours of operation, constant drink pricing, etc.). The bars themselves are owned by the student societies, and operate as essentially non-profit (profits are used for renovations and capital improvements). They're first-in-line = first-inside, and give no thought to the gender cross-section etc. of the patrons (if it's a sausage party, so be it). They're staffed entirely by students. If you're not a student, you need to be with one to get in. Sure, it's a whack of regulation, but I think most of us accept that in the realm of booze, it's often reasonable, and it's certainly not going away.

The net effect of the way these campus bars operate is that they are a much safer way for students to learn to get drunk than the alternative. Fights are rare, people actually get cut off (and not just for being rowdy), and your fellow student-bouncers make sure everyone is safe.

Prof. Elmasry's argument about hard-earned taxpayer money subsidizing drinking, besides sounding disingenuous, don't wash - the only "subsidy" is time spent by the U. administration maintaining the liquor license, and making sure the campus bars abide by their rules. And the rest of the Professor's piece seems to amount to "drinking is bad", which is barely even an argument.

Students of Calgary: ditch the downtown scene, and head to The Den! Or Max's!

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