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Pinball Cafe falls victim to Parkdale moratorium

Posted by Derek Flack / December 10, 2012

20120204-mlum5.jpgThe Pinball Cafe has shut its doors, a victim of the recently legislated moratorium on new restaurants and bars in Parkdale. If that sounds strange given the fact that the cafe opened back in February, one need only recall the trouble that its owners encountered with municipal by-laws shortly after it opened.

Call it a war on fun or just bad planning on the part of the owners, but the cafe's original licence was refused on account of an old zoning by-law (No. 438-86) that specifies that "only 2 pinball or other mechanical or electronic game machines is permitted in a 'restaurant' or a 'place of amusement.'"

The owners eventually decided to reduce his inventory of pinball machines to just two so as to comply with the by-law and then reapplied for a business permit. The problem is, of course, that by the time it was reviewed, the moratorium on new restaurants and bars had been passed, and the application was subsequently denied. (Note: see Gord Perk's comments in the update below)

A matter of fact note on the cafe's Facebook page lays out the situation, but gives little hope that the business will reopen its doors. Contributors to an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds for the cafe's liquor licence have been informed that they'll be refunded their donations within a calendar year — not exactly an auspicious sign.

Unsurprisingly the initial reaction to the Facebook note and on Twitter has been a mix of disappointment and outrage. There's little doubt that this is unfortunate turn of events for what was a great addition to the city and the neighbourhood, but it's probably unfair to characterize the closure as simply another example of Toronto's notorious propensity to fight fun.

Yes, the original by-law is dated. But at the risk of coming off as an asshole (I liked the place), I'll point out the obvious: had the owners complied with the by-law in the first place, the business would almost surely have opened way before the moratorium took effect. And yes, operating with two pinball machines would have made the branding of the place a huge challenge, but given the outcome, it was probably the way to go.

Update (1:57 p.m.)

Area councillor Gord Perks has just posted a note on his website in regard to the slew of inquiries he's received about the Pinball Cafe's closure. And it would appear that the business's note on Facebook doesn't tell the whole story. Here's what Perks has to say:

"Some of you have called me about the closure of the Pinball Cafe. Evidently, the owners have claimed that they were closed by order of the City of Toronto. I have confirmed today that The Pinball Cafe was not ordered closed by the City of Toronto. No City staff issued any order against the Cafe. In fact, according to Jason Hazzard, co-owner of the Cafe, this establishment has never had a business licence.

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.

Evidently the owners also claim that the Interim Control Bylaw (ICB) controlling new business applications on Queen St. is to blame. To be clear the ICB cannot close a legally operating establishment.

I am sad to see Pinball go, but it was a decision of the owners to operate without a licence, and their decision to close."

Photo by Morris Lum



pinball wizzard / December 10, 2012 at 01:52 pm
booooooooooo outrageous
Fakehipster / December 10, 2012 at 01:56 pm
The horror, the outrage! Hipsters love retro pinball machines. But how many of them actually WENT to this place while it was open?

100+ comments on their Facebook page by a bunch of people who probably never bothered to support them while they were open and who only want to join a cause against the government.
Lauren / December 10, 2012 at 01:57 pm
Dirk is going to be so mad at you guys.
Johnny / December 10, 2012 at 01:59 pm
This is bullshit! I went to the place while it was open, had a blast. The owner even took the time to explain the by-law hassles to me.

This is a fucking shame.
Jer / December 10, 2012 at 02:12 pm
Sounded "fishy" to me... but, seeing the Gord Perks note/update really clears things up for me.
Rodrigo Gomez / December 10, 2012 at 02:16 pm
This sucks. I've been there 2 or 3 times and it had a nice, relaxing vibe. I was looking forward to going back to play more Donkey Kong on the sit down arcade machine. I wonder how Community 54 gets by that pinball by-law. Perhaps their smug attitude chases away any by-law officers who enter the place.
Yeah / December 10, 2012 at 02:20 pm
blogTO needs to change the title of this article because, as we all know, most people won't bother to read the full article.
AV / December 10, 2012 at 02:24 pm
Can't blame anyone except the owners for operating without a business license. Sucks, I enjoyed the place
Grease_Monkey / December 10, 2012 at 02:39 pm
would love to buy one of them pinball machines.

is there anyone i can contact?

iSkyscraper / December 10, 2012 at 02:48 pm
This is an old issue that many cities struggle with, from a time when pinball and such was not retro fun but a serious sign of idle youth, etc. I just oversaw the buildout of a pizzeria in the New York metro region that, for fun's sake, includes a game room full of old-style arcade games. Because of the games, the local municipality required an amusement license which was a total hassle (and expense) to get. These regulations were written many decades ago and hard to change. I'm not surprised Toronto has similar issues.

If one were to install a bunch of TV's on the wall and let people plug in their laptops on them to play Starcraft, is that "amusement"? If you have a bunch of iPads in a bar and people play apps on them does that need a license? What about a pinball machine that is simulated on a smartphone and you play that in a restaurant? Is that a pinball machine or not?

The regulations need to be updated for the digital age. Short of actual gambling, get rid of all of them.
Danny P / December 10, 2012 at 03:09 pm
"Pinball Cafe Falls Victim to Hipster Laziness"
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / December 10, 2012 at 03:21 pm
The truth is (and the reason most arcade owners were very snarky at kids sometimes, and owners of cybercafes STILL are), most people think of pinball and video games as time wasters and ways to keep kids from going to school, or to keep people from working. Until that attitude changes (towards both pinball machines and video games-home and arcade systems), there will still be laws like this.
Rich replying to a comment from Danny P / December 10, 2012 at 03:27 pm
Its OK, they're taking the idea to Hamilton with all the other Toronto exiles (kidding)
mike in parkdale / December 10, 2012 at 03:35 pm
iskyscrapper makes a good point - there are two big internet cafes on Queen in within a few blocks of the Pinball cafe.

How can they get away with a 'gaming hall' but a pinball gallery can't? Those laws are seriously out of date.
Sean / December 10, 2012 at 04:31 pm
To claim this is anything other than an entirely self-inflicted wound is ridiculous. The owners have had every opportunity to apply for the required permits/permission (which they should have had BEFORE they opened their doors), but they specifically chose not to. They gambled and they lost. No sympathy for the owners. Mr. Perks is bang on correct.

While iSkyscraper is correct that the by-law needs updating (and the city is in the process of trying to do so), that doesn't change the fact that this is the law as it currently stands.
JC 2.0 / December 10, 2012 at 04:33 pm
That's a shame that they have to close. I really enjoyed playing Medieval Madness there. If they had figured out how to make good coffee it would have been one of my favourite cafe's in the city.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from mike in parkdale / December 10, 2012 at 04:36 pm
Most internet cafe are just that; places to surf, read email, scan pictures, update blogs, search for work, watch movies,etc.-very rarely are they places to play games (and the thing is when they are, all they do is just get people hanging out at them ALL day, like the one person I knew who hung out at the one I used to go all day without going home and attending to personal needs like bathing.) As I said above, until and unless attitudes towards amusement machines change-both home AND arcade-we'll be having the laws that we have now, and the view of them that we have now.
me / December 10, 2012 at 06:41 pm
i'd like to hear from the owners why they didn't bother getting a licence, and why they chose to frame the reason they closed as they did (i.e., putting the blame on the city rather than assuming their own responsibility for the outcome).

perhaps it's 'the man' who is oppressing them? the 1% keeping the 99% down?
Me / December 10, 2012 at 07:52 pm
Yup, just like the Left and their OCCUPY attitude, always blame someone else. WAH!!
What the...? / December 10, 2012 at 07:53 pm
Hmmm, back in Februrary...

"While the cafe is currently operating without a license, Hazzard remains determined to stay open six days a week. "In the absolute worst case scenario, [the City] will say I'm operating without a valid license and they'll fine me," Jason says. "And I'll put it in a folder, give it to my lawyer, and keep my doors open." "
Silver Baller replying to a comment from Fakehipster / December 10, 2012 at 08:21 pm
I went once a week and dropped a minimum of $30 a visit. I love playing pinball and I am truly saddened it is gone. It's footloose all over again, only 20 years later and even stupider then before.
jameson / December 10, 2012 at 08:46 pm
Such an odd situation. Should've gotten it taken care of when they had a chance!
mobo / December 10, 2012 at 09:37 pm
I love pinball machines. I grew up playing them and saw the dawn of video games. I live around the corner from this place and I assure you, it was mostly empty, or it had a couple of kids dropping quarters into the machines. It must be near impossible to pay rent with quarters from a pinball machine,nevermind paying utilities, wages, etc. License or not, its demise was written on the wall.
And now for the title "Pinball Cafe falls victim to Parkdale moratorium". give yourself and blogTO a a little more credibility when doing a report and research all angles neat time.
Haha. / December 10, 2012 at 09:59 pm
It's blogTO, there is no credibility. That's one reason it's so entertaining.
Thomas / December 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm
This has nothing to do with the moratorium. Moratorium is about any new businesses not ones that already exist, this place was already established. How much money do you think some 25 year old pinball machines make at 0.25 a game? Rent is pretty steep on Queen Street, I'm sure they weighed the pro's and con's, their wins and their losses and just closed doors. It's a good concept, BUT concepts don't make money on their own, you need good product, perfect pricing, business plan, you finances in order and in reality...
jameson / December 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm
Technically because they didn't have a license they didn't exist. When they went for a license they had to apply in the same manner as a new business and couldn't get it (in the same manner that no one else can).

They were done in because they didn't get a proper license when they opened AND the moratorium. If the moratorium didn't exist, then they could get a license. I'm not a lawyer, and neither is blogTO...
Brian replying to a comment from Fakehipster / December 10, 2012 at 10:51 pm
I went. I'm not a hipster. I'm just old enough to be nostalgic for pinball machines.
Parkdalian replying to a comment from Yeah / December 10, 2012 at 10:51 pm
Agreed. This headline is lazy journalism, and incorrect. As you pointed out in the response from Mr. Perks, this has nothing to do with the business moratorium. Please change it ASAP.
thingsthatmakeyougohmmm / December 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm
The Pinball Cafe facebook page is non-existant anymore. Hmmm..
jer replying to a comment from thingsthatmakeyougohmmm / December 11, 2012 at 08:48 am
Their FB page is up as of this morning. Maybe you got caught up in the FB down time yesterday?
kir / December 11, 2012 at 09:15 am
It's really sad that they've closed.

Hopefully some changes will be made to these by-laws and somebody else will start up something similar. I loved going to the Pinball Cafe and the nostalgic vibe they had catered directly to my interests.
tuli replying to a comment from thingsthatmakeyougohmmm / December 11, 2012 at 02:13 pm
I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg forced them take the Facebook page down after he heard about the moratorium?
Gabe replying to a comment from me / December 11, 2012 at 08:53 pm
Yep the 1% is on a mission to keep you from playing pinball!

Perhaps the owners should have learned to run a proper business. They gave it a good try and probably had some good learning experiences that they will use towards other businesses in the future. Pretty amateur business model anyway. Pinball, Skateshops, Arcades, they all have come and gone, most don't survive. More businesses fail then survive they will keep on trying.
Julian replying to a comment from Global Urbanist / December 11, 2012 at 08:56 pm
I think most have this shitty idea, I'm gonna open a cafe/arcade/gallery/clothing shop/music venue its everything everyone wants all in one place how can it not survive?

BY not being good at one specific thing, that's how.
mike in parkdale replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / December 12, 2012 at 11:09 am
"Most internet cafe are just that; places to surf, read email, scan pictures, update blogs, search for work, watch movies,etc.-very rarely are they places to play games"

three words for you: World Of Warcraft

The internet cafes in Parkdale near the pinball cafe all seem to pay the rent though gamers. I've been to both of them (simply because I dont have a printer at home) and there's always a good chunk of gamers playing away.

Most of the things you described (email, blog updates, looking for work) can all be done for free at the library.

Simon Tarses replying to a comment from mike in parkdale / December 12, 2012 at 02:33 pm
Sorry, but I don't like doing the last-mentioned things at the library-and I don't think that anybody else does, either The computers at the TPL branches are just too slow.
Rich / December 12, 2012 at 02:52 pm
The excuses they're making on their Facebook page now are quite amusing. Seems like you can't tell them shit... whon whon, you failed.
Stanley / February 7, 2013 at 05:03 am
OK, the people running this place were clearly out to lunch. However, a law that states you cannot own an establishment that operates more than two pinball machines is, for lack of a better word, fascism. I would love to hear an explanation from city hall on this one.
Stanley / February 7, 2013 at 05:13 am
I'm sure this bylaw stems from a sad attempt 30 years ago to fight organized crime by attacking its roots: Pimple faced nerds playing Xenon.
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Gamefan / February 18, 2015 at 03:00 pm
Then how GET WELL bar still around? They have pinball and arcade games as well.
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