bars in toronto

Toronto bar owners say they could go out of business if forced to reduce hours

A spike in COVID-19 cases in Ontario has sparked a debate on whether or not bars in the city should be ordered to close early. 

In B.C., nightclubs and banquet halls have been shut down entirely thanks to an increase in cases. Meanwhile, bars province-wide have been forced to stop all liquor sales by 10 p.m., and close by 11 p.m. sharp. 

While no move has been made yet to do the same in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has stated that he'd support Mayor John Tory in doing the same for Toronto's watering holes. 

But a potential reduction in hours could mean the end of some bars in the city, say business owners. 

"Financially it would ruin me," says Irina Rotar, owner of College Street's Bar Stray. "I'm a late night spot, always have been. Late night is my business." 

Rotar says that her cocktail bar, which operates from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, would struggle to cover its massive overhead with two fewer hours of sales each day. 

After Stage 3 of Ontario's reopening plan, there have been several bar-related mishaps and dangerous crowds gathering on the sidewalks. 

Last month, an event outside the Dundas West spot Mahjong Bar spiralled out of control, resulting in patrons arriving en masse to a packed outdoor party.

The King West nightclub Arcane came under similar fire last month after videos circulated of a non-distanced party happening on the premises. 

Even before Stage 3, nightclub Marbl was blasted for allowing crowding on the sidewalk. One Toronto bar even lost its liquor license following 125 people at a party that directly went against Ontario's Emergency and Civil Protection Act. 

But not all bars are built equal, says Rotar, and an increase of bylaw officers to help enforce protocol at late-night establishments would be better than restrictive measures across the board. 

"Larger places should hire more staff to control crowds and help with social distancing. All of us smaller businesses should not get punished because these larger spots can't control their crowds," she says.

"I understand it’s tough for everyone, myself included. No one wants to lose clientele and turn people away. But everyone’s taking a hit."

Chris Haslett of Annex staples Madison Avenue Pub and Paupers Pub believes the city should focus less on bars and more on what he describes as the real social distancing problems: illegal beach parties, large backyard gatherings and grocery stores line ups. 

"At least in a restaurant you can monitor and enforce the rules. In someone’s home or at a beach there is no contact tracing, no enforcement of masks and no physical distancing," says Haslett. 

The Madison uses a reservation based system, contact tracing, and more hostesses than pre-pandemic to ensure that people are seated and masked. The change in operations has largely been well-received by customers, he says.

"...I think the city is targeting restaurants because we are low in the feeding chain... The industry cannot take another round of hits." 

Business at the Madison Pub is down 55 per cent from last year. With patios closing soon and limited indoor capacities, mandated early closures could be "disastrous". 

"I think better enforcement is the answer," says Haslett. "Restaurants that don’t follow the rules should be closed as a punitive measure for a period of time.  The city needs to be more active in controlling the outdoor situations." 

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns


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