In a lot of ways, Left Field Brewery is one of the great Toronto beer success stories: a husband-and-wife team quit their jobs, and start brewing small batches of their beer in another brewery before finally being able to set up their own establishment in a long-abandoned industrial building on Wagstaff Avenue in Leslieville. Their “Welcome to the Neighbourhood” party brought forth beer fans and new neighbours in the thousands. Despite many obstacles, owners Mark and Mandie Murphy have accomplished their dream, and the resulting success is passed onto the customers treated to the damn fine baseball-themed beer they make.
The location for the brewery is the perfect spot. In a city where many local breweries are forced to set up shop in out-of-the-way industrial districts in the suburbs, managing to set up shop in one of the city’s few industrial zoned areas within a residential neighbourhood allowed Left Field Brewery the unique chance to become more than just a brewery, but an East End destination where folks alone or with friends and families could stop by, sample some of their offerings, and purchase some merchandise.
Additionally, Mandie and Mark were sensitive to the potential concerns their neighbours would have. Being a resident so close to an industrial area comes with its own unique set of problems, so they made sure that there was an open line of communication with the community, handing out their business cards door to door before they even set to work renovating the hundred year-old, 6,000 square-foot building. Since then they have also ensured that their neighbours would not be inconvenienced by the added traffic that a brewery would bring. “No Parking” stickers were handed out to residents for their spaces and a cigarette butt disposal was put up. The Murphys have also made it clear that no private events are being hosted for the time being and that music, if any, is always kept at a reasonable volume.
In Spring of this year, Left Field finally opened the doors to their brewery to allow for retail sales and business has been booming. Open every day from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. and now with 12 staff members, the brewery has been a breath of fresh air to the east end, turning the once sketchy industrial alleyway into what they always wanted it to be: a community hub.
That’s when the complaints started coming in.
While not all of Left Field’s neighbours see a problem, frequent noise complaints have been coming in regarding the volume of conversation from the brewery’s open garage door (open due to the warm temperatures caused inside from brewing) and into the streets, with one neighbour telling papers that the Murphys were “very bad neighbours.” Concerned by this rift in the relationship with their community, the Murphys have taken steps to reduce the noise as much as possible, adjusting seating away from the open areas, posting signs reminding people to be quiet, and even installing fans for ventilation, which would allow the doors to be closed a bit more.
However the complaints kept coming and some where getting outright ridiculous. Instances of people complaining while no one was talking in the brewery, and even one occasion where a person complained of the loud noise—while two babies managed to sleep soundly in the brewery—have occurred recently. What’s more, the Murphys invested in a decibel meter, noting that their busiest hours equated to be the same level of noise as light mid-day traffic on Greenwood Avenue. Further investigations into the noise complaints by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and Municipal Licensing and Standards concluded that there was no problem and that Left Field was operating at acceptable noise levels.
Councillor Paula Fletcher of Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth, a fervent supporter of Left Field, has been working closely with the community and the brewery to come to a solution, even introducing a council motion to have the concerns addressed as quickly as possible. Originally slated to be on the agenda for July 8th, Councillor Fletcher withdrew the motion after acquiring a commitment from Michael Williams, General Manager of City Economic Development and Culture, and John Livey, the Acting City Manager to work on coming up with a solution.
Unfortunately, what should have been a private matter between Left Field and their neighbours became public when the Toronto Star wrote about the noise complaints earlier this week. Following that, other news outlets have reported the difficulties using the age-old “residents and business at WAR” trope, which Mandie Murphy says hasn’t helped matters.
“It’s not a fight, no one is fighting with one another, we all just want a happy solution and be able to coexist peacefully,” she tells Torontoist. After the initial article on the issue came forth, they quickly posted a response to tell their side of the story, which has led to an overwhelming level of support from Toronto breweries, bars, and drinkers using the hashtag #craftbeercomeTOgether.
In the end though, all the Murphys and their neighbours want is a quick solution that would allow both sides to walk away happy. Regardless of the frustration and multiple angles from which this can be looked at, the best possible outcome would be one where everyone can be proud to call each other “neighbour”. While time will tell how that game will play out, Mark and Mandie Murphy are optimistic.
Left Field Brewery is located at 36 Wagstaff Drive and is open every day from 12 p.m.-9 p.m. While their Maris* Pale Ale and EEPHUS Brown Ale are exceptional, be sure to grab the beautifully made Sunlight Park Saison. Stop by the location to try them for yourself and pick up a few bottles to take home.
…Just keep the noise down.