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