Pinball Cafe falls victim to Parkdale moratorium

The 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

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