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Restaurants, bars bank on positive World Cup result

Vancouver approves more extended-hours licences than during 2014 Brazil World Cup
Commercial Drive hospitality businesses hope the World Cup tournament will bring in customers despite the red-eye scheduling of many of the games and Italy’s absence from the 2018 competition | Rob Kruyt

You might think that hockey would be a bigger draw for patrons than soccer at sports bars and other hospitality venues pretty much all across Canada. But on Commercial Drive during World Cup years, soccer gives the national sport a run for its money at restaurants, bars and traditional Italian cafés.

“Soccer is huge, which is crazy for me,” said Caroline Levy, general manager of St. Augustine’s Craft Brew House and Kitchen. “Hockey, we used to get a ton of [customers], and we’re in Stanley Cup playoffs so we’ll get some, but I think because soccer doesn’t have a big cup every year, that’s why we’re seeing more soccer fans come out.”

Except for its women’s hockey games, the Pyeongchang Olympics were not much of a draw for the Commercial Drive restaurant, Levy said. But that’s not the case any time there’s a big soccer game. During the recent UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Champions League soccer tournament, she said the restaurant was fully reserved weeks in advance.

Despite the absence of the U.S. and perennial powerhouse teams from Italy and Holland in this year’s World Cup, bar and restaurant owners on Commercial Drive hope the tournament will still draw soccer fans to their establishments.

Vancouver’s Little Italy along the north end of Commercial Drive has long been the city’s soccer celebration hub. But without Italy’s presence in the World Cup, will that attendance be affected?

“It definitely will; Italy is one of our biggest crowds here,” Levy said. “It is a disappointment that Italy isn’t in, but we have a huge South American fan base here on the Drive that comes in for the games; Portugal is huge, and Germany is a huge fan base for us here as well.”

St. Augustine’s schedules its hours around the games with large fan bases in the area, she said.

Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia is not the only thing that could hurt attendance at city bars and restaurants.

During the last World Cup in 2014, the time difference between Vancouver and host country Brazil was only a few hours. This year the tournament is scattered across three western Russian time zones. The games start as early as 3 a.m. Vancouver time, adding another hurdle for restaurants struggling to attract similar numbers of patrons as in 2014.

Though many of the games take place during pre-dawn West Coast B.C. hours, Levy’s restaurant does not intend to apply for extended liquor service hours. It is opting, instead, to focus on games that start at 11 a.m. or later. However, that could change when it gets to World Cup quarter- and semifinal rounds.

And while the time difference between Vancouver and Russia might have discouraged St. Augustine’s from opening earlier and applying for an extended-hours liquor licence, according to City of Vancouver data, the municipality has received and approved three applications for extended operating hours for this year’s World Cup. That’s one more than was approved during the 2014 Brazil World Cup. •