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The Pinball Café falls victim to Parkdale’s restaurant ban (UPDATED)

(Image: Caroline Aksich)

Earlier today, Jason and Rachel Hazzard, owners of Parkdale’s Pinball Café, posted a note on Facebook announcing they’re shutting down. The culprit: Toronto’s bylaws. The couple were unable to secure a business licence because their café, which opened earlier this year, was home to more than two pinball machines, a contravention of Zoning Bylaw No. 438-86. Jason Hazzard told The Dish that the café then decided to pare their selection down to two and reapply for a licence. This second attempt came too late, however, since local councillor Gord Perks had already pushed through the Interim Control Bylaw (a.k.a. restaurant ban) in the area. “It all just seems so weird to us,” said Hazzard, who pointed out the irony that the city is currently pursuing a potential casino development. “It was almost surreal.” Hazzard has already sold off his collection of vintage machines, although he kept for himself a 1987 Pin-Bot—“the greatest game ever built”—which will now take pride of place in his living room.

UPDATE: Councillor Gord Perks has posted an entry on his website pointing out that it didn’t have to end this way:

The owners had a zoning issue to overcome in order to get a licence. I met with the owners of the Pinball Cafe in February of this year and urged them to get a business licence and offered them suggestions for two possible ways to do this. They could apply to the Committee of Adjustment to allow for a “variance” from the zoning rules, or they could ask City Council to change the zoning of this property. It appears the owners did neither.

He also notes that the Interim Control Bylaw cannot shut down an establishment that’s already operating legally.

  • Chris

    Sounds like these guys simply failed to do their homework when setting up their business and instead of simply acknowledging their mistakes, they’re blaming the city. Sorry, no sympathy here.

  • Barry

    So it’s ok for Toronto to have a fking Wendys, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and Rogers/Bell on every bloody street, but god forbid we have a few to many restaurants in Parkdale.

  • foodnetworklowersstandards

    chris-i agree, poor planning does not make good business people.

    barry-its not restaurants in parkdale that is the concern-it is liquor licences…and bars. the stretch between roncesvalles and dufferin has 45 active or in-process licences. one a licence is granted there is no control over its use-so a small tibetan restaurant specializing in momo’s can be sold and then a dive bar or nightclub can take over.

  • Francis

    FoodNetwork – Liquor licences are not transferable, so a Tibetan restaurant can’t instantly become a dive bar with different owners. The reality is that the general public has many means to control ‘bad’ bars/restaurants and to prevent ‘Mega clubs’: there are the general laws against public drunkeness, disorderly conduct etc and AGCO’s enforcement bureau and zoning bylaws. If the police city does not do their respective jobs then the answer is not draconian legislation: the answer is for the officials to do their jobs.

    And we are talking about a main street here: reasonable people can’t expect it to be as quiet as a cemetery

    Funky interesting bars and restaurants are a necessary part of a civilized city. We need them. We should be helping the small independent owners as much as possible. As Barry points out, how many tourists are going to come to Toronto just to sit in a Starbucks, Tim Hortons etc and that is the ultimate result of Mr. Perks stand.

    I wish the city would spend as much time and effort planning developments so that they include bars, restaurants and effective public spaces rather than token gestures to appease a bunch of NIMBYS (think of the Ossington ban: in the end beyond bankrupting some entrepreneurs it’s effect was nil).

    As to the Pin Ball cafe it is amazing that the city is so anal as to regulate the number of pin ball machines in a cafe. Then again the owner apparently didn’t have a license whatsoever so I have little sympathy.

  • Pfft

    Gord Perks needs to leave office! Complete idiot.

  • foodnetworklowersstandards

    when you buy a licenced business and keep the name-you essentially buy the liquor licence and yes a tibetan place can become a dive bar the very next day-so yes they are transferable. the application of change still must be approved by the agco but it is more a rubber stamp-not in bankruptcy, no criminal record and your work history and that is about it. trust me as i have done it…more than once.

    we are not talking about a main street being quiet as a cemetary but a street not becoming the entertainment district. this stretch of queen always had funky little bars that served the neighborhood (mezzrow’s, the [formerly mitzi's] sister, not my dog, cadillac, rhino…the city has now taken noticed and is coming into the neighborhood with recent additions of bars like wrongbar and parts and labour. more late night urinating and throwing up on the sidewalks, fences etc.

    there may be many laws to curb this behaviour but the reality is that they are rarely if ever used. i have the pleasure to wash down my sidewalk and fence regulary now more than i ever had to before.

  • Paul

    I hope Perks keeps pushing hard against the improvement of the neighbourhood. He’s showing his true colours and will soon be pushed aside for good.

  • foodnetworklowersstandards

    getting back to this article and the incorrect headline….and really it has nothing to do with perks-the owner didn’t have a business licence-plain and simple-that is why they closed or they would have been closed down.

    even first time business operators know that they need valid licences (business, liquor, amusement, grocery, tobacco….whatever the case may be). it isn’t like t.v. where a lawyer quits a law firm-he can’t just ‘hang out a shingle’ and start lawyering…you have to start a company, register it, the name, the type of business, type of ownership, get an HST number, set up accounts with revenue canada, cpp and ei, apply for the licences listed above…if they are doing construction they need to get a building permit, being inspected, fire department approval, health department approval…..

    lots of layers-most would say too many and too much government and of course every layer gets their money out of it and hopefully at the end of the day the public safety is ensured as well.

  • Jimmie

    poor planning, bad business people, didn’t do their homework… blah blah blah. You’re right. They should have done their homework, and if they had they never would have opened because it’s not like you just pop over to the bylaw variance store and say –

    “Hey, I wanna do this thing but your law says it’s illegal, so just shoot me a quick variance and I’ll be on my way. Thanks!”

    This was a fun idea, and it was a fun place that was good for the neighborhood. It’s a shame to see them go and it’s a shame that in the city of Toronto there will not be another one like it, because now everyone knows that pinball is illegal, like it or not.

  • Paul

    Shocked at how Parts and Labour and Wrongbar get singled out as a negative addition to the neighbourhood while Skardijka and Anna’s and Grace’s get worse and worse. Sun Fa and Happy Time actually seem to keep things under control but the further west bars are getting quite rough. If the critics of the newer bars ever acknowledged the issue of older drug-infested bars, I’d be more sympathetic to their concerns over the newer ones… Yes, they have their problems but they do not prey on vulnerable addicts and create a nexus for the crack trade. I have actually been in touch with Perks after 2 break-ins at my old place. I was appalled by his attitude. Crime and drugs are not a priority for Perks, but limiting small business and keeping property values low are his stated aims. Enough.

  • foodnetworklowersstandards

    you are correct paul, in that p&l and wrongbar get singled out and probably shouldn’t be except that it brings more people into the neighborhood and that creates its own set of problems. maybe we have come to accept the few dive bars that remain for whatever reason…it keeps out of the bars that WE go to, the police know where to look for the problems as they suspects gather in these 5 haunts. just the other day i was at the sister and noticed 6 bike cops circling around the queen and dowling intersection (around the corner from sun fa is a notorious drug deal area) when a cruiser speeds up, the bike cops quickly slap cuffs on a guy and throw in the back of a cruiser, a 2nd cruiser comes up and then they tear off down the wrong way of dowling. i love parkdale t.v.!