Hans Lovejoy and Chris Dobney
The Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) has repudiated accusations of ‘entrapment’ by the owners of Aquarius backpackers bar in an article published in Echonetdaily on Tuesday.
But it has gone further and accused the venue of breaking conditions of the voluntary Byron Liquor Accord during April, the terms of which only went into place in late March.
Issuing a response to questions posed by Echonetdaily, an OLGR spokesperson said that when officers covertly attended the venue last Friday night (June 7) they were able to purchase alcohol and a voucher despite telling staff they were visitors and had no intention of eating.
An on-premises licence requires the sale of alcohol to be ancillary to another service, in this case accommodation or a meal.
The venue’s kitchen closes at 9pm after which food vouchers for BBQ sausage sandwiches are sold to patrons with their first drink. The patron is able to redeem the coupon for a sausage sandwich from the venue’s beer garden.
Ben, Aquarius’ bar manager on the night, told Echonetdaily he saw but did not hear the initial transaction with the OLGR staff take place and ‘the barman who served them did everything correctly, giving them the voucher’.
He added, ‘when I walked outside about 15 minutes later to pick up glasses, I spoke to them and asked them if they’d grabbed their food. They said they had and I asked them how it was. They said “excellent thanks”.’
OLGR said the bar had been issued two previous penalty notices with relation to inspections on April 25 and 26.
On the first occasion undercover officers were served alcohol without being asked whether they were staying in accommodation or intended to buy food.
The following day officers bought two shots of tequila with lemon, ice and water. The trial terms ban the sale of shots at any time but by the OLGR’s own admission, the drinks were mixed with water.
Echonetdaily is awaiting a response from OLGR on how they interpreted this as a breach of the Accord.
Chris Schneider, licensee and food and beverage manager at Aquarius said that after the first incident he attended a meeting with OLGR representatives and worked out a strategy to ensure they were abiding by the law.
‘No one in town was actually sure what constitutes a shot and what constitutes a mixed drink.
‘We sat down at a staff meeting the next day and said it was the “intent of rapid consumption”. If it was for rapid consumption, definitely not to serve it.’
He did add, however, ‘the rules are a little bit ridiculous. Someone can purchase a martini for instance, with three shots of alcohol in it, and it’s ok under the terms.’
Mr Schneider said he felt the meeting with OLGR had gone well and was surprised by the recent covert operation.
‘I felt we had the policies in place that would satisfy all parties. Obviously it didn’t and that’s why we’re going with the decision [to close and seek a full licence].
‘It’s just not viable as a business to make sure that everyone consumes the food that they’ve purchased. So what we’ve done to avoid any more misunderstandings with OLGR [is] to pursue this extra licence.
‘I think we showed that we were trying to implement policies but [OLGR] still have to work within their guidelines as well.’