The Price of Cheap Drinks

This weekend, we’ll be celebrating our campus pub’s 32nd birthday party. There are a few Wardy Birthday traditions we can expect to see on Saturday: lineups starting in the early afternoon and snaking up past the J-school, jealously guarded tables of stockpiled beer, and the forcible expulsion or grievous injury of John Adams. One Wardroom tradition we won’t see this year, or ever again, are the stepped drink prices. In case you weren’t around to experience a classic Wardy birthday, it went something like this: in order to celebrate the Wardroom’s illustrious and affordable history, the evening would start with drinks costing a quarter, and every fifteen minutes the bell would ring, and the crowd would groan as prices would increase by twenty-five cents as we recapitulated Wardy prices from its founding to the present day. The students who had lined up all day would stock up on beer at the beginning of the night while it was cheap, and crowd every horizontal surface in the bar with beers for later. Meanwhile, the less fortunate would be stuck paying as much as two dollars for their beer. It was a noble and dignified King’s tradition, like signing the Matricula or smoking in Plato’s cave. This year, though, drinks will stay at the same price all night. To make up for it, the DSS will do what it does best and buy everybody lots of drink tickets.

The reason we can’t have our Wardy Birthday pricing is because of Nova Scotia’s minimum drink prices. These are set at $2.50 per 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of spirits. These prices were instituted by the province in 2008 in response to a couple of drunken brawls outside the Dome on dollar drink nights. The province’s reasoning was that cheap drinks contributed to the mayhem, and the problem could be mitigated by getting rid of cheap drinks. This reasoning is dumb.

We can all agree that drunken brawls outside the Dome are bad. But there are already laws against serving patrons past the point of intoxication, which the Dome broke. Rather than punish the Dome for over-serving by, say, revoking its liquor license, the province decided the most prudent course of action would be to reward them by improving their profit margin. Now that the Dome doesn’t need to compete on prices with the Palace or any other bar downtown, they can encourage the same level of over-drinking as ever with a hefty increase in their profits to boot. It seems like the province has no serious objection to over-serving; they object only to over-serving poor people.

Caught in the crossfire, of course, are all the campus pubs, curling clubs, legions, and other club-house style establishments that used to provide a place where their patrons could enjoy a pint or three without breaking the bank. These places, our Wardroom included, were never the site of massive drunken brawls. But our innocuous student-run business was punished for the irresponsible behaviour of a corporate bar downtown.

It’s not all bad, though. The price increase gave the Wardroom a chance to trade up from Moosehead beer to Garrison, so we can drink better beer and support local business. And as wages and prices everywhere else inflate, $3.25 (the legal minimum for a real pint) is starting to look like a pretty good price for beer again. Still, I’m going to miss the Wardroom Birthday.