Where will you be when the clock strikes midnight? If it’s New Year’s Eve in Toronto, not at any bar, restaurant or party.
With Ontario introducing new restrictions to respond to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, many NYE events are being cancelled.
NOW’s guide to New Year’s Eve parties and restaurants went live just minutes before those new restrictions came out, and many of those events have since been cancelled or likely will soon.
“No matter how we looked at it, the restrictions made it prohibitive to move forward,” says Shawn Daudlin, managing director of Buddies In Bad Times.
The queer theatre institution had been planning a colourful bash with drag queens, DJs and a request to wear the flashiest outfit you bought during the pandemic but never had a chance to wear. They were already being cautious, planning for 25 per cent capacity, or 125 people, even though 50 per cent is allowed.
“Buddies is in a unique position, because we bridge theatre, bar and nightclub communities,” says Daudlin. “But for theatres, there’s no food or drink, and for bars, you have to close by 11 and there’s no dancing. I don’t know how you can move forward if you can’t sell concessions and you can’t even ring in the new year. And how can you tell people at Buddies not to dance?”
Daudlin says they’ll likely cancel some late-night programming throughout January as well in an effort to be safe. It’s a blow, especially considering the precariousness of queer spaces that was brought into focus during the pandemic. But he’s hoping they can have their biggest celebration at Pride in June.
The 11 pm curfew is going to be an issue for most parties at bars and music venues, though events like Massey Hall’s Comedy Extravaganza could still theoretically trudge forward at 50 per cent capacity with no food or drink (it’s unclear if it will go on as planned). The Sadies, whose annual NYE show at the Horseshoe has been a highlight for decades, is also cancelled. The Piston has also cancelled its NYE disco party with Cyclist, and the venue’s Jorge Dacosta says the decision is based on safety for staff and patrons, while live band events won’t cover costs for events at half capacity.
Even if events would be allowed go on with restrictions, many are making the choice to cancel in order to be as safe as possible.
Black Sheep Comedy had planned a NYE show at High Park Brewery, which would have been their last event before a two-month hiatus. Co-producers Darcia Armstrong and Cathy Macpherson both had family affected by COVID, and tell NOW they’ve been balancing the need for safety with a desire “to keep the comedy community, which has been decimated by lockdowns and restrictions, performing and earning at least some amount of money.”
“We had taken measures for our NYE show – reducing the number of tickets available to ensure social distancing, not allowing shared seating, special accommodations and procedures for the comedians, etc. – at the show. However, once the government announced curfews, we decided we could not continue with our plans.”
Instead of a hiatus, Black Sheep Comedy will now do PWYC Zoom shows, which is something they did during the first lockdown. They’ll be doing hybrid online/in-person shows once they can start doing shows again.
Virtual events are coming back in a big way now that many people are once again staying home. Toronto cover band Dwayne Gretzky had been planning their annual NYE show for the new venue History, but is instead livestreaming from their studio for the second year running. The show will be live on YouTube and their website with donations going to CAMH.
“We were excited to be back in-venue with our fans and friends, but the most important thing is that we
all stay safe,” says singer and bandleader Tyler Kyte.
Restaurants are still allowed to serve in-person diners at 50 per cent capacity, but many are choosing to voluntarily shut down until after Christmas – and many, like BB’s Diner, until 2022. Others, like Annette Food Market, are still serving dinner but closing earlier than intended and cancelling special NYE prix fixe menus.
And some, like Dailo, are offering their NYE menu for takeout and delivery.
There are other socially distanced options too, like Toronto’s fireworks display at the waterfront and their live music livestream. Other virtual and outdoor gatherings will likely get added, too.
As it turns out, 2022 New Year’s celebrations will be a lot like the ones in 2021. Barring another major variant, there’s always next year.