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Vancouver's Rio Theatre 'likely' can turn into sports bar, according to Ministry of Health

Last Updated Jan 20, 2021 at 10:04 pm PDT

(Courtesy Rio Theatre/Facebook)

It looks like the province won't stand in the way of Vancouver's Rio Theatre switching over temporarily, to a sports bar

The iconic East Vancouver establishment owner is frustrated movie theatres are still closed under health orders

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — It looks like Vancouver’s Rio Theatre is getting the thumbs up from the province to turn into the Rio Sports Bar, even though the owner stresses she would much rather keep showing movies.

On Tuesday, the iconic East Vancouver establishment raised plenty of eyebrows when they put a sign in their marquee that read, “Screw the Arts, We’re a Sports Bar Now,” in reference to provincial health orders that have allowed bars and restaurants to stay open, but have seen movie theatres shuttered since November. Owner Corinne Lea later confirmed she was completely serious about the plan.

Now, B.C.’s Ministry of Health tells NEWS 1130, “If they are fully licensed, and the conditions are met under the order, including an approved safety plan – then likely yes – they could operate as a restaurant or bar,” adding, “This demonstrates the ingenuity of a long-standing B.C. business in unprecedented times.”

Lea isn’t happy with that last part.

“You know, they are praising us for having ingenuity, but if the rules weren’t so confusing and inconsistent, this wouldn’t be neccessary,” says Lea. “It’s kind of like, they’ve put us in this position, and forced us to have to do this.”

RELATED: Vancouver’s Rio Theatre to temporarily reopen as sports bar amid pandemic restrictions

She’s also upset her core complaint isn’t being addressed; that movie theatres shouldn’t be treated as ‘events’, rather, they should be treated like bars and restaurants.

While she’s happy she can soon open up, she says she’d much rather be showing movies and slinging popcorn, than switching to a bar.

“I’m just trying to take whatever crumbs they throw my way,” says Lea. “At this point, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to get open.”

Lea says the Rio had its safety plan approved when it was operating as a theatre, and it has a liquor primary license, and a limited food establishment license, which she believes will be enough to satisfy the province’s demands.

Even still, she says there are hoops to jump through.

“One of the health requirements is that we need to have reserved seating, which we usually do, but then they said we can’t sell tickets because then that would be an event,” says Lea. “So it’s like, okay, how do I reserve seats without them calling it an event? So again, a lot of semantics, a lot of hoop-jumping, and does any of this make any difference on COVID? Of course not.”

She says The Rio Sports Bar will be open daily starting this Saturday but promises it will be ready to switch back to a movie theatre, as soon as possible.