Commercial Drive institution Fets Whiskey Kitchen set to close as legal fight continues

The longtime owners of Fets Whiskey Bar, a veritable library of specialty whiskeys on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, will exit the restaurant business in December after 36 years in business.

Eric and Allura Fergie will host a series of whiskey pairing dinners, the first of which since the start of 2020 is scheduled for Sunday, September 11. Both have worked in the service industry since their teens and say the pandemic has helped them realize it’s time to slow down.

“My partner is also my wife, and we’ll both be unemployed,” laughed Eric Fergie in a CBC interview.

“We don’t want to end up being this bitter old couple who still run a restaurant.”

He and Allura will continue to taste whiskey and work with a few whiskey organizations to promote quality spirits and teach people how to make them.

Fergie says they are ready to hand over the reins if anyone is interested in buying the business, but so far the plan is to close the doors and say a final goodbye to their staff the December 23.

Allura Fergie says she has mixed feelings.

“[I’m] excited for what the future holds, but sad because we’re not going to be on the Drive anymore,” she said in an interview.

The two plan to travel North America in a newly purchased RV and spend more quality time with their three sons, two young grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews when they’re not on the road.

“I have a big family,” she said. “I love kids, and I want to see them grow up and see them achieve their own dreams.”

Fets Whiskey Kitchen started as Fettucini’s Café in 1986. It quickly became a popular restaurant on the Drive after crossing the street and amassing the largest collection of specialty whiskeys in Canada. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Long story

Fets Whiskey Bar started in 1986 as a pasta bar called Fettucine’s Café. In 1996, it moved from a cramped hole-in-the-wall style restaurant to a larger location across the street at 1230 Commercial Drive.

“Our regulars just shortened it and called it Fets,” said Eric Fergie, explaining how the name later became Fets Pasta Bar.

The new space led to a growing collection of whiskey and the realization that people came for more than food.

In 2012 it was renamed Fets Whiskey Kitchen, offering the largest collection in Canada.

Fergie says the people he and his wife have met along the way are what they will treasure most.

“We have built incredibly lasting relationships,” he said. “We have friends we’ve known since the restaurant opened – lots of them.”

A display case with the sign 'Fets Whiskey Kitchen'.
Fets Whiskey Kitchen has been attracting people with its menu of popular dishes and its extensive whiskey collection. Owners Eric and Allura Fergie say they will always be in the Commercial Drive area, just across the counter. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Legal battle

The couple may be leaving the restaurant behind, but they are moving forward in a legal battle with the British Columbia Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB). In 2018, Fets and three other bars in British Columbia were raided by liquor branch inspectors.

Hundreds of bottles of specialty whiskey imported legally but purchased from private retailers were confiscated, and the couple sued the province after the LCRB upheld its original decision.

“We know we’ve been wronged by the agency, by the detectives. And we’ll fight to the end to prove it,” Eric said.

Eric says B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nathan H. Smith ruled last December that they were “deprived of procedural fairness” and ordered the province to share all documents relating to the affair with the couple.

Nearly 300 pages of files released two years ago have not been redacted, but Eric says they mention “emails and conversations” that he and his wife were unable to review.

“Our lawyer feels he has what he needs to get things done. But Allura and I feel we have the right to see all [of it],” he said.

A sign that reads 'Vancouver's First Whiskey Bar Fets Whiskey Kitchen Southern Inspired Whiskey Infused'.
Fets Whiskey Kitchen will close on December 23, but owners Eric and Allura Fergie say they plan to fight a legal battle with the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch all the way. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Eric says the 242 bottles of whiskey taken from his shelves were taxed and purchased in British Columbia, and he believes they should be returned.

Ultimately, he hopes the litigation will make life easier for other bar and restaurant owners.

“Our goal is to leave this industry in better shape than we got there.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety – which oversees the liquor branch – said he would not comment as the matter is still before the courts.

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