Last week, the Toronto Star ran two articles that just further convinced me that this city needs to change how it licenses and regulates bars and restaurants.
The first is about how the City is taking its Parkdale restaurant ban to the OMB. Last fall, the City froze new restaurant openings (which covers everything from coffee shops to bars) on Queen between Duffering and Roncesvalles. This was done because local councillor Gord Perks thinks that there are too many restaurants on the street and causing that strip of Queen to be dead by day and crazy, intensely busy by night (personally, this has not been my experience). He wants to impose a cap that would see no more than 25% of businesses along that stretch to be a restaurant. The Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association naturally opposes this and the fight is now OMB bound.
The second piece looks at how the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario is now only enforcing liquor license conditions that directly relate to booze. So, for example, it will still enforce not serving to minors but won’t enforce noise rules.
As a result of this move, the City is now making it very hard to get a liquor license approved (you need a letter from your MPP!). This is because while the City can fine a bar for being noisy, it doesn’t have the teeth to do much else, which previously wasn’t a problem as AGCO was actively enforcing conditions. But now, a bar willing to view a noise fine as the cost of doing business could have quite the rager with minimal consequence.
I’ve lived in Parkdale and now live on Ossington. I am very familiar with Toronto nightlife both as a user and as a neighbour. I don’t believe that we should be trying to suppress bar openings but at the same time, I do want to get a good nights sleep.
Maybe I’m naïve but I do think it’s possible to have our cake and eat it to when it comes to nightlife in this city. Here’s how we’d do things in My Ideal Toronto (MIT):
1. I’d start by creating a new series of business licenses that would apply to restaurants, bars, clubs and music venues. These licenses would be more precise than what we have now and would allow the City to better tie conditions to a business as well as regulate what’s out there. I’m thinking that there would be three base licenses: A café one for businesses that don’t plan on selling alcohol; a restaurant where the food is the focus and a bar one where alcohol is the focus. An additional live music (which would also cover DJs) would also be available.
2. Each of these licenses would come with conditions that would all be enforced, with teeth, by the City. While initial violations would generally result in a warning; too many could result in a license being permanently revoked. But before we got to that point, other solutions would be attempted. For example, if noise was an outgoing problem, the business would have its license “frozen” while a plan was developed and implemented that solved the problem.
Enforcement would be partially paid for by the cost of licenses, the cost of fines (which would hurt) and money sent over by AGCO, which is only fair since it’s doing less enforcement.
3. I actually agree that it should be somewhat hard to open a bar or club in Toronto. Those businesses come with a lot of responsibilities and it’s important that the “right” people are opening them. The City is proposing that people who want to open a bar in Toronto take CAMH’s Safer Bars program. This makes complete sense to me and it would also be a requirement in MIT.
MIT would also require that anyone applying for a restaurant, bar, club and/or live music license complete a fairly detailed application that would touch on everything from financial viability to what it adds to the community to how smokers would be handled. It would also list all financial backers.
4. Why that last part? To see if any of them are on what would essentially be a blacklist. While there would be a few ways to get on this list, the main one is to have financially backed two (or maybe three) businesses that had their licenses revoked. Having this rule in place would help to clear away the bad apples as well encourage businesses to follow their license’s conditions.
5. In MIT, bar bans would be banned but the Fun Regulation department, the body responsible for approving all restaurant/bar/club licenses, would be able to deny a license based on location. I agree that a healthy neighbourhood has a wide range of businesses and that yes, we don’t to have multiple blocks that are just restaurants/bars/clubs. But a blanket ban means we could be preventing some really amazing new places from opening up as well as denying employment opportunities.
Instead of a ban, license applications would be considered on a case-by-case basis and judged on its own merits. In most situations, the application process would have two phases. The first would be for the concept of the business, which would contain a proposed address area. If the applicant passed this phase, they would then go out and secure their space within that area. If they needed to change the area, they would have to update their application.
But if they were able to rent (or buy), within their proposed area, they would move onto phase two of the application. This would be lighting-fast (under a week) and would be about the address. Generally, the exact address shouldn’t cause an application to be rejected but depending on the specific factors, it certainly could (for example, an application for a bar and a live music license would be rejected if the exact address was quite close to say, a hospital).
6. Finally, MIT would drop the practice of selling a pre-existing liquor license along with the actual property. While someone could certainly buy an old club space with hopes to open a new one in its place, there would be no guarantee that that would happen.
Of course all of this would just be a start and input from everyone from the industry to BIAs to citizens would be needed to fully revamp the system into something that works for most people.