Like many people, new drinking and driving legislation in B.C. has forced me to change my behaviour.
The legislation has been in effect for just under a month. Anyone caught with a blood-alcohol level higher than 0.08 or who refuses to give a breath sample will face a three-month driving suspension, have their vehicle impounded for 30 days and pay up to $4,000 in fines and fees.
A new “warning range” of 0.05 will lead to a ban on driving for three days and $450 in fines and fees, all for a first offence.
One thing is clear: I need to break up with my bar.
The Cheshire Cheese Inn is an ersatz British pub with a wooden bar, your grandmother’s flowered upholstery and antique photos of no one in particular hanging on the walls.
The place has a reliable stable of regular clientele, the staff is welcoming and generally efficient, the beer is not overpriced. The music is kept at a level where you’re not forced to scream over it, and there’s often soccer on television.
I’m no barfly; I don’t have my own stool, I’m not permanently installed in the place.
But on Sunday night, when all is calm and the stars have aligned, I like to go to the pub by myself, have a beer, read the weekend paper and decompress.
I’ll pause for a moment now while you judge me: “The man drinks alone?” Yes, I do. Some people do hot yoga. I don’t judge them.
Here’s the problem: The Cheese is in Kerrisdale. I live in East Vancouver.
With the 0.05 rule, I’m not willing to risk that drive across town anymore.
I always felt certain that two beers over two hours left me fine to drive home, which I have always done completely clear-headed. But I frankly don’t have a handle on how the 0.05 rule changes things. Safety is, of course, the prime concern, but I’m not willing now to risk a fine or three-day driving ban for blowing in the warning range.
Fortunately, I live within walking distance of a concentration of bars disguised as restaurants on Commercial Drive.
So with a newspaper tucked under my arm, I set out to find my new Sunday night spot. How hard could it be?
First up, Falconetti’s. A dark narrow bar at 2nd and Commercial. On this night, it’s all hipsters and hockey. Toques and fedoras and trucker hats worn ironically bob in the fray. The Canucks are on the big screen. I find a vacant stool at the bar. The bartender pours me a Strongbow. Beside me, two young men talk about the effect of steroids on one’s testicles. Now the band is sound checking. Sensory overload. Not for me.
Further down the street I pass the Libra Room. Vocal jazz. I keep walking.
Then what is perhaps the least cool place on the Drive, (maybe so uncool it’s cool – I can’t keep up) is Avanti’s Pub in the Il Mercado building.
This is the only official neighbourhood pub on the strip. It has occupied the corner of Commercial and Gravely since 1986. The air is thick with the smell of malt vinegar and residual smoke from the 1990s.
Old school projection TV, Budweiser banners strung around the room and two Keno screens flashing random numbers. One can imagine the ban on smoking hit this place hard. A scan of the clientele tells me there is little irony in the hats worn here.
The no-nonsense bartender is quick. She drops a bottle of Stella in front of me: no glass, pay up front.
The man sitting beside me is doing a crossword puzzle. Behind me, four people seated at a table break into laughter over a story about the best ecstasy score ever. Too bleak. Too depressing. But I’m sure the regulars are comfortable here.
Before heading home, one last stop.
Timbre. On this night, the place is atypically quiet. The decor is rustic chic. Pine tabletops and wooden beams, original art hanging on the walls. The bartender – fresh-faced and friendly – tells me about the drink specials. It’s light enough to read, the music isn’t awful. Settling in with the weekend paper and a Red Racer IPA I think, I can live with this.
It’s the 0.05 solution.
Stephen Quinn is host of On The Coast on CBC Radio One 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver