if you've noticed longer lineupson the streets and fewer people inside downtown music clubs lately, you're not imagining things.
It's the season of crackdowns, and many of the city's major live music clubs and cool cafes have been shook down in the last few weeks for having too many people inside.
One by one, clubs are being scrutinized and charged by uniformed police officers and undercover agents passing as club-goers. They carry counters in their pockets to figure out who's over capacity and who should have more people waiting in line.
The most celebrated incident of enforced crowd control concerned Nelly Furtado and her entourage, who were denied entry to posh restaurant Rain after cleaning house at the Junos.
In the past month, Lava, Ciao Edie, Lee's Palace, the Reverb, the Horseshoe, the Paddock and Souz Dal have all had a visit from the cops, some with drastic consequences.
Ab Campion, spokesman for the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission -- the board responsible for issuing and suspending liquor licences -- admits that there is more attention being paid to club overcrowding now, but he also insists the crackdown isn't anything out of the ordinary.
"Overcrowding and emergency exits are issues of public safety that we deal with all over the province every day," Campion says. "We aren't necessarily concerned with leniency."
Leniency is what groovy restaurant/lounge Lava is looking for. The club has been charged twice in six months and will soon have its liquor licence suspended for a week as punishment. With lineups now beginning for Mark Holmes's Mod Club Wednesdays at 10 pm, co-owner Greg Bottrell is not amused.
"This crackdown is going to put 25 people out of work for a week," he explains. "My problem is that there are no warnings given and it all seems very ambiguous. Some people get charged and others have 10 minutes to sort the problem out.
"It's a very serious issue, and we're at the mercy of the police."
The concept of a club being sold out is always fairly ambiguous, particularly when elastic guest lists and bands that can get people drinking come into play.
Off the record, several club owners and bookers admit to cramming in a few more bodies to make the room seem full and put more cash in the drawer, but that practice seems to be getting rarer.
During recent so-called sold-out shows by Sigur Rós, Hawksley Workman, Mogwai and Guided by Voices, there was actually room to move and breathe, and the traditional shoehorn appeared to have been left at home.
With the summer concert season and NXNE around the corner, club bookers are being forced to be even more vigilant about how many people get in.
"None of these little clubs has any problems," protests Ted's Wrecking Yard and NXNE booker Yvonne Matsell. Ted's got a police warning during a recent Sadies show, and Matsell won't even say on record what the capacity of her club actually is. "The only time we've ever had to call the cops was for a lunatic at a Rheostatics show.
"We're watching the numbers pretty close now, and what it does is take income away from the bands. You're only going to get two nights a week during the summer when you're going to do OK. It's a day-to-day existence in this business, and this just makes things more difficult."
Gruff-voiced vice-squad detective McCran of 14 Division has little sympathy for club owners or the folks waiting in line.
"If you have too many people in your bar and we find out, either through undercover or uniformed officers, we'll charge you."
His advice for club-goers?
"Arrive early to avoid disappointment."