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Pinball Cafe Becomes the Parkdale Bar Ban’s First Victim

It was almost definitely Toronto's only pinball hangout, and now it's gone.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbum/2535913784/"}bbum{/a}, from Flickr.

The Pinball Cafe, on Queen Street in Parkdale, was quite possibly a better idea than Toronto deserved. Its owner, Jason Hazzard, announced today that he’s shutting the place down, effective immediately, after being denied a business license because of a new interim control by-law that bans new restaurants and bars in the neighbourhood for a year, or until a study on development in the area is complete.

The cafe, which was almost certainly the very last public place in Toronto with a substantial number of pinball tables for aficionados to play, opened early this year. It quickly became popular with the media, and with locals thirsty for coffee, milkshakes, and a turn at the silver ball. But, Hazzard says, even before the interim control by-law, the cafe was always bedevilled by an old provision of the City’s zoning by-law that limits the number of arcade machines any business in the area can operate. The restriction was put in place decades ago, when arcades were known as gathering places for criminal youth.

“Essentially, we’ve never operated legally,” said Hazzard earlier today, “because we’ve never been given a business license.” The cafe had its first shutdown scare in February.

Hazzard said he and his wife, Rachel, applied for a business license when the Pinball Cafe opened, but were denied because of the anti-arcade provision in the zoning by-law. Their local councillor, Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), advised them to try to win an exception from the City, but they never got one.

Eventually, they applied for a liquor license from the AGCO, but were denied because they didn’t have a business license. Finally, caving to the pressure, they told they City that they would get rid of all but two of their pinball tables—two being the maximum number permitted by law. They would apply for a new license as a conforming establishment.

But it was already too late: the bar-and-restaurant moratorium, quietly passed by council in October at the behest of Councillor Perks, was already in effect. The City denied the Pinball Cafe’s new business license, and now Hazzard and his wife have no hope of legitimizing their shop until the moratorium is lifted. Hazzard is shutting down because he fears a hefty fine from the City if he doesn’t.

Perks, for his part, has published a note on his website laying the blame at Hazzard’s own feet.

Hazzard freely admits that he bears some of the blame for his own misfortune. “The paperwork is so overwhelming, and the bureaucracy works in such a roundabout way that while my wife and I were trying to operate a business as a two-person team…maybe we didn’t get on top of it.”

All of the shop’s pinball tables have already been sold, except for one: Pinbot, released in 1986 by Williams, the legendary pinball manufacturer. Hazzard is moving it into his living room. “It’s the greatest machine ever made,” he said. “According to me.”

Comments

  • hugh

    The article states that “Their local councillor, Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), advised them to try to win an exception from the City, but they never got one.” Sounds like the more accurate way to have written this would be “by they chose to not attempt to apply for one”. Hard to fault the city for not giving them an exception when the owners of the cafe never even attempted to present their case.

  • Jinx

    This stinks. Perks’s number is up next election. He’s actively making the neighborhood worse.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

      No, he`s not. And, how do you know that he doesn`t live there.

      • Jinx

        Look I just think he doesn’t give Parkdale enough credit for maintaining its character. A handful of nice restaurants and bars is not going to change things much except to nudge the existing nightlife a little more to the mainstream and away from the darker, druggier edges (which, for what its worth, don’t effect regular folks much at all.) I tolerate the Skadarlija and Grace’s Place. Can I at least have a couple of friendly, clean, hard-drug-intolerant places on the block too? Parkdale is a long way from having to worry about too many people putting too much money into the community , which seems to be what Perks wants to blockade. I’ve lived in Parkdale almost 20 years now. It’s very loveable. Perks and others have nothing to fear by letting more businesses in.

      • Jinx

        Oh, and I know where he lives because I asked him. You should too.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

          Jinx, I don’t want to be blasting Perks for anything at all; he is a decent councilor and a better one that the man who’s now mayor of Toronto. Just to satisfy my curiosity where does he live?

  • CoyGoodBoy

    I am sad to see this place go. Of all the establishments that have opened in my hood in the past year or so, it’s was the only one that actually served local residents. All of the restuarants, bars, and antique shops are there to cater to the rich who slum in my neighbourhood on nights and weekends.

  • Jinx

    it does seem a bit complicated – but from what I understand it the way they could have got an exception would have been for them to not have more than 2 pinball machines – e.g. to NOT open a pinball cafe… and so they just went for it thinking they could fight it as they moved along.

    And it is an indirect casualty of the all-or-nothing bar&restaurant moratorium. Perks can try to worm is way out of shouldering some of the blame for it all he wants, everyone knows he’s useless for the neighborhood (doesn’t even live here).

    It really was a place for locals, open early in the morning and late every day. It was kid-friendly but not cutesy. It will really be missed. I can see the debate about some of the bars and restaurants to a degree, but this place was just a nice neighborhood spot. Shame on you, Perks. We won’t forget it.

    • Canadianskeezix

      Well, no, that’s not quite right. If the limit on machines is in the zoning by-law, they could have gone to the CofA asking for a variance that would have allowed more machines.

    • dowling ave

      They could have easily gone for a variance at the c of a, which is what the message perks posted said he advised them to do. Instead they operated for close to a year without a business license, decided to close on their own accord and have no one to blame but themselves. You may have some sort of dislike for Perks but try and wait for an issue where he is at fault instead of taking cheap partisan jabs and coming off like a moron.

      • Anonymous

        Amen dowling. Jinx is uninformed and is coming off like a defensive moron. Hazzard knew he was illegally running his business sans license for months, but its all Perks fault? LOL, get a grip on reality.

  • Weston1975

    He should re-open on the east side on the Danforth (east of Donlands)! I’d go for sure! I bet rent would be cheaper.

    • Raymond Babbit

      Even if the owners did, the problem would still be the same; they didn’t work within the regulation to do what they was supposed to do to keep the Pinball Cafe open So, they’d still have it closed.

  • Anonymous

    What a pointless bylaw (the pinball/arcade one).

    The moratorium on bars is pretty dumb too.

  • Dave

    It seems so quaint to think of a video arcade as a gathering place for criminal youth.

    Actually it seems pretty quaint just to think of a video arcade.