It may be a dismal tradition, but for years now, bars along Church St have had to close up their windows and turn down the disco at 11pm for fear of violating the city’s noise complaint bylaws. By their very outdoor nature, patios have been a particularly delicate issue between restaurant owners and sleepy neighbours.
But with a harmonized zoning bylaw passed by city council that will ban all new back patios, another volley in what’s been called “the war on fun,” the chatter amongst Village restaurateurs grew louder after O’Grady’s got a new set of instructions from the police last week.
Joseph Mores, a bartender at O’Grady’s, took a call from bylaw officers and says, “the police were giving us a hard time about not having a licence, which we did have already renewed. I think it was an administrative error on their part.”
What alarmed Mores and staff at the Church and Maitland resto was that “the officer told me they had the right to actually come down and take all the tables and chairs away right then, at three in the afternoon.”
In the aftermath, Mores says, “We’re not allowed to play music on our patio anymore, period. It’s kind of awkward because we have a huge back patio.” Explaining that O’Grady’s owns its back patio but the City of Toronto owns the side patio, Mores says, “Our side patio has to be closed at 11 but our back patio can be open until 2.”
Darren Kane, event coordinator at Fuzion a few blocks north, says Fuzion hasn’t experienced any issues with police yet but finds the O’Grady’s situation bizarre.
“We don’t play loud music on the patio anyway, but asking people to get off the patio and take their alcohol inside is unheard of,” Kane says. “I have a lot of friends with businesses along King West and they haven’t heard any of this. I have no idea why they’re coming down on Church St.”
They’re not, says Stephen Miller, investigation services district supervisor at the City of Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards Division.
With the caveat, “I don’t know the specifics of who said what, I’m just speaking about general rules,” Miller explains that the issue for patios like those of O’Grady’s and Fuzion is not that they’re on Church St but that they veer off Church St.
“When you’re on the flankage, down a side street, and you’re abutting residential,” Miller says, “you can secure the necessary permit for the café, but it’s always a given, written in the bylaw, that you must be closed and cleared by 11pm, and no amplified sound is permitted on the patio.”
In O’Grady’s case, Miller says, “I think what happened was, we advised them, and they didn’t realize they had a closing hour that was imposed. They can certainly appeal to have their hours of operation extended.”
If the patios were solely on Church St, Miller says, “the same restrictions wouldn’t apply.” On a side street, however, “they put in some safeguards to protect residents.”
“We don’t impose as many rules on you when you’re doing something on your own property, but certainly when you’re on the city’s property, we have to ensure that the general good of all is being maintained.”
“It’s difficult when you have a patio,” Miller admits, but he says the police “do get a lot of complaints” and are merely enforcing bylaws as written.
“I think what [the City] is trying to do is allow, you know, some elevator music or ambient sound that isn’t excessive,” he says. “The noise bylaw doesn’t say you can’t have external speakers… but even if it’s the middle of the day on a Saturday afternoon and someone is blasting the music, it can still be a violation, depending on the circumstances.”
So while it’s possible that O’Grady’s took an overzealous officer too seriously, Mores says the bylaw tangle is a nightmare for bartender and cop alike.
“I think the community needs to get together and fight this… it’s kind of ridiculous.”