Liquor police threaten bars over pub crawls

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Queenstown’s liquor police are threatening to shut down bars associated with pub crawls. 

From December 1, any bar which continues to host bar or pub crawls will have applications to the Liquor Licensing Authority lodged against them to suspend their license. 

The heavy-handed move arose after a pow-wow with licensees last week hosted by Queenstown’s liquor licensing authorities. 

The closed-door meeting discussed whether bar crawls are in breach of liquor laws which deem it an offence if a bar manager does anything that promotes excessive consumption of alcohol. 

Queenstown Lakes District Council’s Lakes Environmental liquor licensing inspector Sian Swinney says in an email addressed to bars last week: “…It is felt that the activity is indeed a breach.” 

Swinney adds they decided to give all licensees the opportunity to notify by Monday this week whether they would cease hosting bar crawls by December 1. 

“For those licensees that continue to have the bar crawls visit the premises we will then proceed with lodging individual applications to the Liquor Licensing Authority for suspension of the licence,” the email says. 

Bar managers were given two working days to respond. 

Kiwi Crawl operator Gavin Larsen says the council is using bully tactics to scare licensees into complying. 

No legislation covers bar crawls, and the council is looking to put pressure on bars themselves by threatening to suspend licences if they continue hosting bar crawls, he says. 

Because of this pressure, Larsen speculates bar owners would be unwilling to speak up for fear of being perceived to be “kicking against the bricks” in the council’s eyes. 

“The most evidence they’ve been able to provide supporting their case is ‘we feel that a bar crawl encourages excessive consumption of alcohol’. They haven’t actually come up with any hard facts to support their case.” 

Larsen says there is essentially no difference between punters going on a night out with his organisation and bar-hopping under their own steam. 

“Just because they are on a bar crawl doesn’t mean they are going to consume more than if they were just in a bar of their own accord.” 

Crawlers are supplied with free food early in the night, are in the company of staff at all times and the free drinks on offer are lower alcohol value than what the average bar-goer would consume. 

Kiwi Crawl has been operating for more than four years and Larsen says it has had no official complaints. 

Below Zero Ice Bar manager Blair Pattinson says bar crawls don’t appear to cause any more or any less trouble than average bar patrons and provide a much-needed cash injection in quieter months. 

Local authorities have always had a problem with bar crawls and have been looking for a way to get rid of them, he says.