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You can drink on the street in downtown Kelowna by Thursday afternoon

The 200 block of Bernard Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic for the summer, starting on Thursday.
The 200 block of Bernard Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic for the summer, starting on Thursday.
Image Credit: Submitted/City of Kelowna

With part of Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna closing as of 6 a.m. Thursday for the annual “Meet me on Bernard” promotion, bars and restaurants are quick to get into the action.

“We’re going to be open, probably by 4 p.m. on Thursday," Andre Thomas, owner of Memphis Blues BBQ House, told “I don’t mess around.”

Traffic will be banned initially, only in the 200 block of Bernard Avenue, running through Labour Day Weekend.

READ MORE: New Penticton bike lanes will 'change transportation in the city'

The street closure was instituted in 2020 to help bars and restaurants increase their seating capacity during COVID restrictions.

It proved so popular that it has continued for the past two summers with the street being closed, but only for July and August, through the 500 block.

But that popularity was somewhat limited to businesses in the 200 and 300 blocks where there are more food outlets.

This year, the 400 and 500 blocks of the street will remain open to traffic all summer, although merchants will be able to use parking spaces for patio extensions or to display their merchandise.

That will be reviewed once construction is finished on the Bernard Block. Offices are expected to be ready for occupation there this winter.

The merchants in the 200 block successfully lobbied the city to allow for the May long weekend opening this year.

“I just think it gives us an early jump start to summer,” Thomas said. “It’s an opportunity to hire staff sooner and train them sooner.”

The 300 block of Bernard Avenue will closed to traffic from July 1 to Sept. 7.

Not everyone in the 200 block is jumping at the chance to expand patio service.

“We’re not actually doing the outdoor patio on the street this year,” Ciaran Porter, general manager of Kelly O’Bryan’s, told “We’re just going to be focussing on the customers that we do have inside.”

He said the cost of setting up a temporary patio just wasn’t worth it. But he does expect to benefit from the increased foot traffic the street closure will generate.

For Memphis Blues, it’s an opportunity to showcase a whole new look.

“We did a renovation in the fall,” Thomas said. “We put in a bar so we’ve gone the full table service route rather than the counter service we were doing before.

“We thought with inflation and the price of food going up, that counter service was just going to be a thing of the past. We felt because of what people are having to pay for food, it is time for better drinks, better service, better atmosphere, more selection and to give them something new to be excited about.”

One of the things to get excited about at Memphis Blues is a major expansion to its liquor offerings.

“We have a full bar with crafted cocktails and we have significantly increased our bourbon collection," Thomas said. "We now think we have the biggest bourbon collection in the country. We’re now up to about 280 different American whiskeys and we added about 100 tequilas and mescals.”

Which is all well and good at a time when heat records are being broken in the city, but what happens when the rains come in June, traditionally the wettest month of the year.

“In Kelowna, it doesn’t rain,” Thomas said. “If it does, it rains for 20 minutes and, half-an-hour later, the patio is full.”

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