wine at art openings is illegal in Toronto

Just to be clear, if you submit an application at the LCBO for a special occasion permit for your art opening you will fail unless you a) lie and commit a crime or b) the LCBO employees involved are corrupt and/or incompetent.

The long story… when most people think of a typical art show reception, they may imagine a sunny weekend afternoon with a small crowd of family and friends and gallery goers gathered around. Some people are holding a small paper plate of cheese and grapes, with a plastic tumbler of wine in the other hand. Kids help themselves to the pop on the table, and people walking by on the street look in at the people and art and may even come in to check it out. No problem, right?

Wrong – when most art professionals think of a typical art show reception, we dread getting a $50,000 fine and probably jail time because that cute little scenario above is a serious violation of the liquor license board of Ontario.

Trying to obey the law by purchasing a special occasion permit is the actual problem – it is designed to be impossible to fill out correctly for art exhibits and I will prove it. I have been filling out special occasion permits for art exhibits for over 10 years and I was taught how and where to falsify information on the permit application. What to say and not to say to the LCBO clerk. This is a pathetic situation where we are forced to lie and deceive if we have any hope of people coming to see our art, including critics from the local paper.  Those who had shows and did not know these exact steps I will list in this blog have had horrible experiences.  For short, let’s call this puritan residual catch-22 legal situation “complete bullshit” as in

“Permits for booze at art openings are complete bullshit” – me

So why is the first paragraph describing a rather innocent and common scenario so illegal? First of all, according to the license, if you are going to share a bottle of wine you cannot advertise the opening of your art show so there should not of been people there you don’t know and did not invite personally. Your art show space cannot be in a publicly accessible or visible place, so having windows in the gallery and an unlocked front door is, well, illegal.  Anybody under 19 is not allowed at your art opening – it’s illegal. Also, forget about printing invitations with the opening information. Illegal. Or if a reporter from the local paper writes about your upcoming opening – also illegal. Posted on your website? Illegal.

This is not news – it has been  this way for as long as I can remember in Ontario and it is completely hypocritical bullshit. There is no way to fill out this form honestly without being turned down. They seem to want you to lie, to break the law somehow so if a liquor license inspector actually shows up and doesn’t like you or your art then they can charge you with something – in the 10’s of thousands of dollars actually. It’s so blatant and unreasonable that if a liquor license inspector actually showed up and did not fine you or call the police on your event, then that civil servant has to be, by definition, incompetent or perhaps corrupt. Right?

In an evil twist of evil banality by an evil bureaucracy (to artists) worthy of an essay by Hannah Arendt, one has to pay $25 for a “non-sale reception” booze permit and by doing so you are actually alerting them to the fact you are about to have an illegal special occasion. Only by the kindness of strangers does your show or gallery not get busted and shut down for incorrect paperwork – I don’t know about you, but for me that is not good enough.

Here is the main culprits of the bullshit special occasion form by the LCBO. I address B.S #1, B.S.#2, B.S.#3 below the graphic.

the main bull in the shitty application to serve wine at your art opening

B.S #1: An art opening is a reception and serving guests a glass of wine is no-sale. Ok, but now it gets complicated – see the small type? “…limited to invited guests only. The general public cannot be admitted…”. You can lie and say that the printed invites are “private invitations for specific guests” but that makes you a liar doesn’t it? Also, if the LCBO clerk or manager has heard of your show or seen an invite some where then you are screwed. Or they are incompetent and/or corrupt as previously mentioned.

B.S.#2: Will this event be advertised? Listing your event in “at the galleries this weekend” in your local paper, then that is advertising and so is printed invites or posts on websites. In Ottawa, I knew an older gentleman who applied for a permit for his open studio event and was so excited about it after working so hard for so long on his art, that he gave the LCBO employee an invite to the show – and his application was immediately declined. This happens all the time.  It’s enough to cause one to spontaneously turn into a giant cockroach.

B.S.#3: “Is this event for invited guests only?” – hmm, that sounds familiar.. oh wait, they asked me this twice already in the previous two B.S. examples. So remember, you can have an opening but only if the public has no idea it is happening.

I have, more than once, been grilled by an employee and told how to properly run an art opening. I have made incredible sacrifices and worked hard to hold gallery exhibits all my life, and I have to pretend to appreciate and agree with this jackass so my event does not result in disaster. I don’t want to piss this person off by actually offering my own opinion, because I don’t want to end up on a liquor inspector’s list to of suspicious events. These are not bad people, but it is an absurd situation where somebody is suddenly given petty bureaucratic power over you and your situation and can turn you down on a whim before going back to stocking the shelves with Baby Duck.

This situation is just plain bullshit and this should be challenged – but who is going to risk incurring the wrath of petty provincial government bureaucrats with a great cost of time and legal expenses? It is a horrible, powerless, unfair and very stressful situation for galleries and artists and being under constant fear of being busted really sucks. I hope this post helps.

How to successfully fill out a LCBO special occasion permit for an art opening

There are two ways to do this. I have filled this form out hundreds of times and now am convinced the best way to minimize risk of being busted by the LCBO is to simply never fill out a form at all. Do not let them know who you are, what you are doing and where you are. These bureaucrats are not the kind who will actually go beyond referring to a list when doing their jobs so you should be safe.

If you feel you must fill out the application, I’ve show you where to lie below. Just remember, when handing in your application, try to avoid eye contact with the employee and do not offer any information other than you are having an art show in your closet in your private, windowless home and your mom may show up because you gave her an invite personally but no one else knows.

how to lie to the LCBO to get your liquor permit

how to lie to the LCBO to get your liquor permit


  1. Marko Mitic · April 24, 2010

    Exellent work.
    Well said.
    I will be back to check some more new info.
    Thank you,


  2. Pingback: A common thread through the LCBO, art openings, the g8/g20 and access to water « The ALP Blog
  3. Graeme · October 11, 2013

    I’m really glad we’re not the only gallery who thinks this is ridiculous! We got a visit last night from the AGCO telling us we need a door person at all future events and to not let anyone in who is not on a physically printed guest list. Also online guestlists such as facebook and google+ event invites “don’t count as real lists”.

    Thank you for posting this online so we could share it around. I want to get a petition started up here in Toronto, and try and get it in the right hands. The AGCO’s main plan here with these is to make money. Why not have an Arts/Cultural Reception permit that caters to this sector and gives them the permit fee while promoting culture… makes no sense. As a gallery we want to do things the proper way, and if that means paying for a permit so be it. AT LEAST GIVE US A PERMIT THAT APPLIES!

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