Montreal is pushing ahead with plans to let bars serve alcohol until the sun comes up starting in early June, launching an experiment that stands to cement the city's reputation as the nation's late-night urban playground.
Mayor Denis Coderre, who has promoted the idea, says the city will increase police surveillance and monitor noise as the pilot project gets off the ground.
"A metropolis is about fun. We can have fun without having necessarily excess," he said on Friday.
The city is limiting the test run to bars near Crescent and St. Denis streets, which are already known for their concentrated nightlife. Bars would be allowed to extend closing time by three hours to 6 a.m., with last call at 5:30 a.m.
The test will run for four consecutive weekends – Thursdays through Saturdays – starting on June 12. Nineteen bars have submitted applications to the Quebec liquor board for approval.
"There is a nightlife in Montreal," Mr. Coderre said. "The only reason there is one in Toronto is because there are half a million Montrealers who moved there."
The experiment will not only give Montreal the most liberal liquor licensing laws in the land, it also stands to test Mr. Coderre's contention that keeping bars open all night is a sound public-security policy.
The mayor says disgorging bar patrons all at once at 3 a.m. causes a greater disturbance than allowing them out gradually, a view shared by some business owners.
"When bars have last call now, everyone gets drunk and there are problems at 3 a.m.," said Philip O'Dwyer, head of the merchants' association for the Latin Quarter, which includes St. Denis Street. "The bars have to throw everyone out, and it can be a nuisance for neighbours."
On Crescent Street, most bars have opted out, and the merchants' association is waiting to see if the added expense of keeping establishments running through the night will be offset by increased business. (The street is in the heart of the city's business district, raising the possibility that bar patrons will cross paths with early-risers heading to the office on Fridays).
"We have concerns about whether this will be lucrative," said Sandy Greene, director of the Crescent Street Merchants' Association. "Will this draw in tourists? We're all very skeptical."
Cities around the world have gradually loosened the operating hours of bars and pubs over the past three decades, although some jurisdictions have started scaling back in recent years. Some cities in Australia cut back pub hours, and studies found it curbed alcohol-fuelled violence.
Research in Norway found that each one-hour extension to bars' opening times was linked to a 16 per cent increase in violent crime.
"What happens is that when hours get increased, people get more intoxicated," said Tim Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C., who has studied the impact of extended bar hours.
"You don't need that many people for it to be a public nuisance problem."
Montreal police spokesman Ian Lafrenière said station commanders will monitor the situation. "We're already open 24 hours a day, so the issue is to make sure we have the right number of people on at the right time."