Column: Discrimination at 21-and-over bars should be canned

By Nadine St-Jacques

When I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to turn 19.

I was the last one of my friends to hit the dance clubs because my birthday was in late October. For months, I listened to how such-and-such-a-club was the place to be on Saturday night. Needless to say, I was excited to hit that “magical” age.

But nowadays, a recent trend has been swooping Ottawa nightclubs and may dishearten young party-goers.

Many of the market bars — the Honest Lawyer or the Whiskey Bar — now require patrons to be 21 or older.

I’ll be the first to admit that having an older crowd at a club can be fun. It makes for a different atmosphere.

But what I ask is why bars feel they have the right to discriminate against the 19 and 20-year-olds? Sure, bar owners may want an older crowd, but who’s to say a 20-year-old can’t fit in with people a few years or even a few months older?

Let’s make a comparison. If a bar wants a certain clientele, would they go so far as to refuse entrance to a 40-year-old? I think not.

So why refuse a 20-year-old who hangs out with older friends? If you ask me, it’s ageist.

At the Bulldog Pub on Elgin Street, manager Jack Bisson says his typical clientele is 25 and older, but he still allows 19-year-olds into the bar.

“We don’t really like to turn anybody away. Obviously, it could be a problem if there’s a group of people and some people are over 21, and then there’s perhaps one person under 21. The whole group might be discouraged from coming out,” says Bisson.

He says instead of turning patrons away, there are methods of attracting a certain crowd.

These approaches include the type of service, the drink prices, the music and the reputation of the bar.

At the Bulldog, a typical drink is $5, while other bars catering to university-aged students may charge $4.

The club’s rationale is that students usually don’t have a fortune to spend on drinks while young professionals often have more money to spend. Consequently, the crowd turns out to be older.

Bisson explains the extra revenue is exactly why market bars are excluding patrons who are younger than 21.

“What they are trying to capture is the older type clientele because there’s money to be made,” he says. “Higher drink prices mean higher profit. They’ve pretty much made their fortune on younger type bars, like On Tap and The Cabin, but they see a larger potential to make money with older type clientele.”

Alright, so bars want to make money. Fair enough.

But if a 20-year-old has a good job and chooses to party at an expensive bar, why not let him?

And there are other ways of drawing a specific crowd without leaving people in the cold.

A sure tactic used by the Bulldog is song selection.

“We are all over the place,” says Bisson. “We play Top 40 radio music, dance music and a little bit of older stuff.”

Finally, a personal favourite of mine is improving the dress code to get that posh atmosphere.

It’s a simple, yet effective way of attracting people in their mid-20s to early 30s. Forcing patrons to wear classier attire tends to increase the age of party-goers.

If you think about it, these are all simple measures nightclub owners can implement to attract the crowd they desire.

So why not take the plunge and get creative?

Let the 19-year-olds spend their money!