A person wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past the independent Rio Theatre, displaying a COVID-19 related message on its marquee, in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. The Rio Theatre in Vancouver says it's reopening as a sports bar showing games on the big screen, a move that would work around provincial health orders that allow bars to stay open but theatres to close. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

With B.C. movie theatres closed, Rio indie cinema says it will reopen as a sports bar

With B.C. movie theatres closed, Rio indie cinema says it will reopen as a sports bar

One of Vancouver’s most prominent independent movie houses is rebranding itself as a sports bar in an attempted workaround of the province’s COVID-19 health orders.

Rio Theatre owner Corinne Lea says as of Saturday, the cinema will pivot to operating as a bar that projects sporting events on the big screen.

It’s part of a move that would comply with British Columbia’s guidelines that say restaurants and bars are fine to stay open, but movie theatres aren’t.

“We’re trying to point out how these rules don’t make any sense,” Lea said on Wednesday.

“But at the same time, there’s nothing we can do … except try to figure out how we can keep the doors open.”

The province’s cinemas were forced to close in November and won’t be allowed to reopen until at least early next month.

Lea said she hasn’t heard from health authorities, but her goal is to “work within the rules” and get her business back on its feet in the sporting world.

“We’re all having to pivot and become jocks,” she said.

“All my film geek programmers were trying to Google the NHL and understand what sports are playing when.”

A statement from B.C.’s Health Ministry confirmed that under COVID-19 orders, the Rio could “likely … operate as a restaurant or bar,” as long as it meets safety conditions, such as capacity limitations.

“We want to recognize the work of the arts and culture sector who have worked hard to find new ways to reinvent themselves during the pandemic,” the statement said.

Operators of the Rio have been frequent critics of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s guidelines for local businesses, which Lea said have been “increasingly frustrating” because of their inconsistencies.

For instance, gyms and bowling alleys are allowed to stay open with certain restrictions, while cinemas weren’t granted the same exceptions.

Over the Christmas holiday, the Rio used its theatre marquee to question the province’s approach to safety, pointing out that while theatres were closed, malls were still allowed to operate.

The latest marquee update on Tuesday took a more succinct approach: “Screw the arts. We’re a sports bar now.”

The Rio holds a “liquor primary” licence, Lea said, which allows the theatre to operate as a bar, and a limited food licence to serve popcorn, grilled cheese and other snacks.

The Rio isn’t the first Vancouver movie house to experiment with a different business model. Last month, the city’s Hollywood Theatre reopened as a bar, serving cocktails and snacks, but not showing films.

Other indie theatres across the country have taken less bold routes to survival after being forced to close under their local health guidelines.

Some continued to operate concession stands or sell alcohol, while the owners of Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema chose to permanently close in December rather than face an uncertain future.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

film

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

Chopped Canada-winning chef Pete Sok is trying to focus on the future as he reopens Boulevard Restaurant and Lounge in the Holiday Inn on Gasoline Alley during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer’s celebrity chef looks past the pandemic with new restaurant opportunity

Pete Sok is reopening Boulevard Restaurant — and betting on the future

The Red Deer Rebels hosted the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first game of the shortened 2020-21 season on Friday. The two teams faced off again in Medicine Hat Saturday (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels fall to Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday

Tigers 7 Rebels 2 The Red Deer Rebels have lost two straight… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Most Read