A bar born of the pandemic in Vancouver’s Chinatown is closing due to permit issues

A bar that offered Vancouverites a fun, safe space to gather during some of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic is shutting down after running afoul of city regulations.

The Keefer Yard was set up in December 2020, at a time when public health orders meant getting together indoors was fraught with risk.

The Chinatown bar offered a covered, heated outdoor space with mini-golf and swings.

“We created a vibe that didn’t make you feel like COVID was going on,” said general manager Keenan Hood. “It was a great escape.”

Now, though, Hood is busy dismantling the site after laying off 20 employees. The city says the venue’s temporary structure does not comply with building bylaws.

Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) also recently issued an order to stop cooking under the covered area and stop using space heaters as they “posed a serious and immediate risk of fire.” They say the site operator had previously been issued several violation notices.

The Keefer Yard was first approved by the city as an uncovered patio as part of the Temporary Expedited Patio Program the city implemented to support businesses during the pandemic.

After opening, the bar added a patio cover. Despite not having a finalized permit for the temporary cover, the city allowed it to continue operating because “it did not pose any immediate life safety concerns once issues identified by VFRS were addressed.”

‘It’s sad, it’s emotional’

Hood said the bar stopped using the space heaters, but could not remove them because they were attached to tables. He also said kitchen staff were no longer using a portable deep fryer.

Despite trying to abide by rules from the city and VFRS, Hood said the business would have to close.

“I could probably keep this patio operating but I have to take the tent down and that’s not sustainable,” he said.

“It’s sad, it’s emotional. I knew in a matter of time this was going to end. I’m upset the way it just came to a stop.”

A bearded man clasps his hands in front of a mural wall.
General manager Keenan Hood said the Keefer Yard has tried to abide by rules from the city and fire department. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)

Patrons of the bar also said they are sad to see the business closing.

Serena Eagland had booked her best friend’s bachelorette party at the venue, only to be told two days before the event that she’d have to find a new location.

“There’s not really anything like that downtown, it’s such a unique space,” she said.

Coun. Pete Fry, who lives in the neighbourhood, hopes that the city can learn something from its experience in working with the Keefer Yard, considering the pandemic showed that residents in Vancouver are interested in eating, drinking and socializing in covered outdoor spaces.

“We are a rainy city, so when we have patios sometimes we will need to have a little bit of cover and protection to keep the elements from us,” he said.

“I think there are lessons to learn and I think we need to ramp up how some of our building bylaws work on temporary structures to allow more innovative and fun patios like this in our city.”

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