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Eat & Drink

Toronto's war on fun rears its head at the Pinball Cafe

Posted by Robyn Urback / February 16, 2012

Pinball Cafe LicenseWhen news came yesterday that Toronto's new Pinball Cafe was experiencing licensing difficulties, my first concern was for the kids. How could a gift such as this be taken away so quickly without doing irreparable damage to the youth of Parkdale? As it turns out, we probably won't know because the cafe has no plans to close its doors.

Despite a Toronto Life report that Toronto's first Pinball Cafe had its business license revoked, owner Jason Hazzard confirms that no such recall ever took place. Not everything, however, is peachy keen at the cafe. While the retro hub remains up and running, Toronto's war against fun, it would seem, has reared its head.

The issue, according to Hazzard, has to do with a dated zoning bylaw that disallows a "place of amusement" to operate with two or more pinball machines in the Parkdale area. A throwback to the days of Toronto the Good, the exact regulation, Zoning By-Law No. 438-86, specifies that, "only 2 pinball or other mechanical or electronic game machines is permitted in a 'restaurant' or a 'place of amusement.'"

The cafe applied for a business license back in January, and has now applied for a zoning variance, which could take months to be reviewed. Bruce Hawkins, senior communications coordinator at the City of Toronto, confirmed that a refusal letter was sent to the cafe in early February as response to its January application. Despite its complications, Jason is determined to keep the Pinball Cafe running through its paperwork negotiations with the City of Toronto.

"This is not uncommon; most small businesses goes through these sorts of challenges," he says. "We're not doing anything that's putting anyone at risk."

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."

Photo by Morris Lum



Guy / February 16, 2012 at 04:28 pm
Won't somebody think of the children!
xokasia / February 16, 2012 at 04:31 pm
I'm guessing there's a typo in that last quote.
Darrfsh Bee / February 16, 2012 at 04:36 pm
I don't think there are any arcades left in Toronto, but how did they manage to coexist with this bylaw? I assume an arcade would qualify as a "place of amusement". Bizarre. This should obviously not be on the books any more.
Everybody Wants Something / February 16, 2012 at 04:39 pm
So Wheels has been dead for about 4 years, eh?

Salty / February 16, 2012 at 04:44 pm
Unfortunately I am not surprised by these situations anymore. Antiquated laws should be recognized for what they and the City shouldn't put the burden on small business to go through legal challenges and get them repealed. There's a small arcade at Union station at the via arrivals downstairs and that place has at least 5 pinball machines...
Bob / February 16, 2012 at 04:58 pm
What city dooshbag is going to try to enforce a moronic bylaw from 1937?

The one whose ass deserves to be kicked, that's which one.
Jordan / February 16, 2012 at 04:59 pm
He could always unplug them when the inspectors come by - or perhaps leave one on at a time? This is all rather silly.

steve / February 16, 2012 at 05:39 pm
Call Rofo on his cell
Rex Banner / February 16, 2012 at 05:40 pm
Under Punishment of Catapult
jameson / February 16, 2012 at 06:31 pm
It is actually sort of a tricky land use. Is it an amusement arcade, or is it a cafe? The fact remains that these are questions that the owner should've inquired about to a legal/planning professional before investing any sum of money (I think it's more an amusement arcade than really a cafe, because of the volume of machines). While the original zoning ordinance might've been out of date, zoning bylaws are not meant to expire, they are meant to be specifically amended.

Asking for forgiveness after the fact is never a good approach when it comes to planning. But luckily you can operate without a permit before a ruling arrives (in situations...).
ROBB FOURD / February 16, 2012 at 06:41 pm

Adam Sobolak / February 16, 2012 at 06:43 pm
The Union Station arcade closed last spring--a victim of the station's rehabilitation plans. (I'm suspecting that any recently-active arcades in Toronto were "grandfathered in" for the duration of their existence, not unlike strip clubs.)
yt replying to a comment from Bob / February 16, 2012 at 09:36 pm
2 minutes of research reveals that "General Zoning By-law No. 438-86" is inteded to be the comprehensive "general" by-law covering almost everything in the city. I have no clue where you go the year 1937 from. Please link me to the full text of that document, if you have it - maybe my googling skills are falling apart this late at night?

If you ever hung out at an "arcade" (read: place to score) on Younge, you would understand why a NIMBY 'hood like Parkdale might have residents who wouldn't necessarily see this rule as "antiquated" as is being suggested.

I'm sure Jason is properly bourgie and intends to hook the youngsters on that fine upstanding drug of productive workers: caffeine and nothing else; in the meantime let's all tone down the incredulity, ya?
seanm / February 16, 2012 at 10:23 pm
With regards to other facilities operating multiple pinball machines elsewhere in Toronto, this pinball machine bylaw applies to Parkdale specifically. Much in the way the Junction remained dry until only a few years ago, sometimes neighbourhoods are treated as if they're their own towns. In the whirlwind of amalgamations of different towns and cities over the past century or so, lots of archaic and extremely specific laws have remained in place on paper. Hopefully logic and reason will prevail though, and this whole issue will be thrown out.
Easy / February 17, 2012 at 05:46 am
PBC has roughly 20 seats and only 8 machines. They have great coffee, sweets, sandwiches and baked goods too. I think that qualifies them as a cafe proper. Fact is, they have much more on offer than most other cafes in Parkdale. On top of that they have a small selection of pinball tables to play and a cool jukebox. They host a scrabble night, have pinball tournaments and where else can you get a real coffee in Parkdale after 7pm? I don't see why someone would clearly just assume that they are less a cafe and more an arcade. They've obviously not been there.
attitude / February 17, 2012 at 09:35 am
This guy has a great attitude. Operate as normal, let the courts settle the rest, and with any luck the added exposure will help offset the legal cost.
Matt / February 17, 2012 at 11:47 am
What he's doing sure takes balls, hahaha, get it?

Daniel / February 17, 2012 at 05:37 pm
your inability to follow or resolve by-law issues and have a valid license, in fact, your complete ignorance of them, is in fact a war on fun.
Jim / February 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm
Such irresponsible management, thinking the rules don't apply to him.
I pity the neighbouring stores and apartments that have to deal with all the noise, that's exactly the reason why this bylaw was put in place.
Dr. Shrinker replying to a comment from Jim / February 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm
Oh, blow it out of your butt. Better yet, get you butt out of Parkdale.
Sean / March 6, 2012 at 09:47 am
Hopefully the owners have hired a good Planner to work on their application. Their fun bravado notwithstanding, blaming the zoning bylaw for the owners' ignorance of it seems nonsensical.

Routine minor variance application is routine. Their protestations and attempted viral petition support campaign seems very much like "Help! I'm being repressed!" from Monty Python.
Dallas Sheppard replying to a comment from Salty / March 11, 2012 at 04:59 am
That arcade operated with a license issued through the city of Toronto. Locations that operated more than 2 pinball and arcade games should require licenses. Otherwise people would just open arcades anywhere and everywhere.
Steve Anderson / April 28, 2012 at 01:02 pm
Perhaps PBC should install a Medieval Madness machine. That way we all could stop the "repression" in the land. We could sip on coffee, play pinball and start a "peasants revolt". Let's all destroy the Kingdom's castle and stop the King of Payne!
Fob / May 1, 2012 at 04:23 pm
Bottom line - All this publicity is Good for Pinball Cafe in Toronto. Is traffic is outrageous. The news had made it's way to US and UK. Way to go Jason! (He likely tipped the inspector off himself to get all this hupla started.) ;-)
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