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Prime patio seats disappear after police crackdown

Liquor inspectors, RCMP, enforcing capacity loads at local hotspots

About 40 people were kicked off one of Whistler's marquee patios in the midst of Saturday's busy après as police and liquor inspectors cracked down on occupancy loads.

Now, side-by-side patios La Brasserie and La Bocca are short 72 outdoor seats throughout the 2010 Games, a huge blow to business.

The managers of the establishments said their capacity should be higher according to the square footage but due to an administrative oversight, the wrong numbers are on the license. The error has been on the books for at least six years, they said, and has never been a problem before.

"This is the only two weeks we're going to be able to make money... and now our patios are all cut in half, which means our revenues are cut in half," said Aki Kaltenbach, business manager for O & R Entertainment, the holding company for La Brasserie, La Bocca, Amsterdam Pub and Maxx Fish.

Business has been slow this season, she said, due to Olympic aversion, with fewer people here in November, December and January. Now, empty tables and chairs are stacked at one end of La Bocca's patio, unable to be used.

Not only is it bad for their business, it's also bad for Whistler's reputation.

"I would say that people who are expecting a certain level of party atmosphere, of course they're not going to come back," said Brenton Smith, general manager of the businesses. "They came here looking for a good time and a party... and if that's what they're looking for and they didn't get it, they're not going to come back."

Kaltenbach added: "The objective is for customers to leave with a great feeling about Whistler."

Smith explained that the businesses have been operating at that patio capacity for the last six years. But when he looked back at his licensing plans after Saturday's crackdown he realized that the capacity doesn't match the square footage increase from the renovations done six years ago - an administrative oversight.

Now he needs approval from Victoria for his plans, which he has been told likely won't happen during the 2010 Games.

"We've been operating with the increased capacity size for six years," said Kaltenbach.

"Nobody's ever said a thing, which is why we were surprised."

They are at a loss as to why the police and the liquor inspectors decided to enforce the law to the letter on the first weekend of the 2010 Games, as throngs of people gathered at Village Square to watch Bedouin Sound Clash for free. Their patios have been this busy before and they have never had an issue, they said.

Across the way at Citta' general manager Scott Gadsby said the police are coming in daily and he is working with the liquor inspectors who are also checking out bars and nightclubs.

"They've come in and they've observed us and I've passed," he said.

Local RCMP were not available for comment before Pique 's deadline Tuesday. The Liquor Control Branch issued a statement that the number of liquor inspectors in Whistler has been increased to four and the goal of enforcing liquor capacity laws is to minimize risk and ensure public safety. Occupancy limits are clearly stated on each business's licence.

The president of the local restaurant association, Councillor Chris Quinlan said he had heard about capacity enforcement.

"I'm a little surprised," he said.

"It is not within the spirit of co-operation that we usually get.

"I think we need to be able to have a little more leeway."