Mahjong Bar apologizes for overcrowding on patio after Toronto DJs throw huge party
Business owners have been taking a lot of flack in recent months for failing to ensure their patrons all comply with pandemic-mandated emergency orders, particularly those that pertain to social distancing.
An event on Saturday night saw people flood the patio of Mahjong Bar, spilling out onto the streets of Dundas West and prompting complaints from local residents.
It wasn't supposed to be that way — and the story of how the night transformed serves as a good reminder of why critics shouldn't necessarily assume that bar owners are flouting the law when large masses of people are spotted at their establishments.
A small gathering of artists were scheduled to perform on Saturday night at Mahjong, a hip bar and restaurant located near Dundas and Dovercourt.
"We have worked with a Toronto BIPOC creative group in the past and in recent crossings had discussed doing a very small, quiet and COVID safe community get together on our Stage 3 patio space," said the bar's owner, Kyle Wong.
"The objective was to allow the group to host a very social distance compliant listening of a few DJs playing inside with guests seated outside. We had purchased additional tables the day before to accommodate what we thought would be a light hearted and low key affair."
Everything went along smoothly for the first few hours, according to Wong, but things started getting busier as the sun went down. More guests were arriving and less were leaving after eating.
"It shames me to say that there were 90 people in the general premises at its peak," said Wong. "Most of which were not paying guests but had been drawn to the crowd and became spectators."
.@JohnTory Is this allowed? This is kind of deflating. Not exactly patio tables spaced 2 meters apart. This looks like normal times in a normal summer. #toronto #SecondWave pic.twitter.com/HtZT8lHBNw— Bill Davis (@BillDavis__) August 9, 2020
The event, which was meant to last until 11 p.m., was cut short early. Wong says the entire service operation was closed by 9:30 p.m., and that the music was shut off by 9:30 p.m.
"The final blow was when a large group arrived from a business opening that had been happening throughout the day across the street," he said.
"This became quite alarming to us as and we cut off all F&B operation and told the organizer that no more DJs could go on and we would have to put an end to what was spiralling out of control."
Staff at Mahjong worked quickly to remedy the situation, removing all outdoor patio furniture and announcing that everyone had to clear out.
"We began to distribute squirts of hand sanitizer to everyone, give away blue surgical face coverings and ask that everyone get off the sidewalk and common areas," Wong explained.
"For a short time we considered opening the inside for seated service for the wellbeing of the group and others in the area but ultimately decided that it would not be containable and likely less safe than keeping everything outside. We attempted to have the crowd push away into smaller groups but that only hurt our neighbour businesses."
Wong offered his deep apologies specifically to the Dock Ellis, which absorbed some of the crowd overflow and later posted a statement online distancing themselves from the event.
We feel it is important to mention that the large crowd that formed near The Dock Ellis was not planned or organised by us, we put up signage asking people to follow social & physical distance rules. We constantly instructed people to follow the guidelines & hope everyone is safe pic.twitter.com/sQYoblkMCv— The Dock Ellis (@TheDockEllis) August 9, 2020
In the end, Mahjong was able to get everyone to leave the premises by 10:30 p.m. on Saturday — fortunately, well before someone was stabbed to death in the same area.
It is not known what time the person was stabbed or why, but a 22-year-old male victim was found lying on the sidewalk near Dundas and Ossington around 3:30 a.m. There is no evidence to suggest that the stabbing and the party are related.
"I take full accountability for what had happened last night. We do not believe it was anyone's plan to throw a party like this, though it certainly ballooned into one," said Wong of the situation, noting that Mahjong had been exercising "the outmost compliance with all current regulations" during the first three weeks of CafeTO.
In an unprecedented age of pandemic precautions, with myriad government restrictions in place, crowds can grow beyond what's permitted quite fast — especially huge crowds of young people, like those seen flocking to bars along King Street West since patios reopened (or, in some cases, before that.)
While Wong and his employees acted quickly on Saturday to clear the overcrowded patio and protect everyone's safety, going above and beyond by handing out masks, the restaurant owner is still deeply apologetic about what happened.
"We're greatly disappointed in ourselves for failing to provide a safe and comfortable experience for our actual guests and to have disrupted the neighbours so much," he said.
"It was so far off from what our intentions were."
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