It's not a secret any more, now that local councillor Joe Pantalone has lowered the boom. On the scalding-hot Ossington strip, too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
Pantalone, faced with the blink-of-an-eye conversion of industrial Ossington into inebriated Ossington, played his ace on May 26 in the form of an interim control bylaw imposing a moratorium on new bars between Dundas and Queen for a year.
What was once a tumbleweed wasteland of transmission rebuilders, tire centres, storage facilities, cigar makers and Vietnamese karaoke dens is now the focus of nightlife and noise ordinance buzz.
"We've gotten a lot of complaints from residents," Pantalone explains at a packed May 28 meeting of 250 people in the basement of St. Christopher House.
Frequent outbursts interrupt the proceedings. Residents who applaud each mention of fruit stands and independent grocery stores think the bylaw doesn't go far enough. Slick entrepreneurs who claim they've rid the neighbourhood of hookers and poverty say they're area-friendly.
"I'm the son of a metro police veteran," says one new business owner who doesn't live in the area. He claims the force loves Ossington's remake: "The violence has gone down immensely. We want to work with the community." Someone in the crowd yells out, "Then open up a fruit shop," and the sparring resumes.
Some resident anger arises from the abrupt nature of the bar ban.
Pantalone only vaguely mentioned the prospect of a meeting on Ossington when we spoke several weeks ago. But sneak attacks don't work if you announce them.
Had there been news of a moratorium, the city would now be flooded with applications. As it is, it may be too late for Ossington as we know it. Seven bars that have already got the ball rolling may or may not be stopped by Pantalone's action.
The reality is that the moratorium, while ostensibly draconian, is necessary. The city needs to step back and consider what's going on in the area.
"Grey areas are difficult to impose [rules on]," says deputy mayor Pantalone. "A lot of big properties in the area have not been developed. Some of them are storage facilities. The question is where is the future, and should [these properties] be guided with your input or should we make it the Wild West?"
People want enforcement of noise and liquor bylaws for existing bars, but the whole city has only 35 inspectors. Sounds like the deputy sheriff is low on peacemakers. Getting an infraction notice handed out here is tougher than finding an empty cab after last call.
Many listeners seem shocked to hear the actual rules of operating a restaurant in the area, including the fact that you're supposed to be sitting and enjoying a meal to have a drink. More inspectors might discover some of the crafty drink vendors masquerading as diners by keeping a freezer of frozen dinners in the back.
One woman gets up to ask about opening cafés in the immediate future: specifically, are they exempt from the bylaw. The answer is no.
While this contention seems to baffle the crowd, Sweaty Betty's owner reminds us that his bar of eight years is technically a café.
No bakeries either?
That seems absurd until you think how many beer pitchers are drained over at Future Bakery's Annex patio.
I get déjà vu listening to Joe Magalhaes, municipal licensing and standards district supervisor in the area, because it's the second night in a row I've heard him explain the system. The night before, he was addressing a community meeting in Councillor Adam Giambrone's ward about too many bars along Queen West.
Like Pantalone, Giambrone's trying to cope with the fallout from a hyperactive hip bar scene.
The idea of a moratorium came up at the Giambrone meet, where the councillor explained his decision not to go down that path right away. An interim control bylaw could have been used on condo developers during the boom that saw the Bohemian projects and Abell artist loft battles.
But then he wouldn't have the weapon at his disposal against the current bar saturation.
Giambrone points out that if he'd used an interim control bylaw on Queen West when he first became a councillor, the five-year period when he wouldn't be able to employ it again would only now be lifting.
"Five years is a long time," he says. "A lot of issues have come up, exploded and been dealt with and gone away, all within that time frame. Having said that - it might be the time to use [the interim control bylaw], and it's not off the table."
Ossington restaurants often cross into "entertainment facility" territory. Photo: Mark Coatsworth
What is he anticipating? We don't know. Perhaps an interim control bylaw prohibiting the mass exodus of frustrated families fed up with noise and arrogant bar owners?
That community meeting concluded with the creation of a working group of volunteers tasked with preparing info on bar concentration and, hopefully, something for council to consider in October.
An interim control bylaw is the route favoured by a frustrated Misha Glouberman, whose four years of pleading culminated in the Queen West meeting.
"The city has been telling us for four years is that the interim control bylaw is imperfect, but they've never proposed anything better. Given the choice between nothing and an imperfect solution, I will choose the imperfect one."
He's clearly fed up with what he perceives as dilly-dallying on the city's part. He says he's doing the city's job by applying pressure on new bars, and that public meetings are farcical.
"Meetings like this are bullshit. It's a show governments put on to create the illusion of public participation."
Up next: the Great Hall.
The 500-capacity venue has long been per-event licensed, for weddings, fashion shows or dances. But now the Hall is hoping to plow ahead with a full licence, making it a de facto nightclub open every night of the week if it chooses.
The irony is that Giambrone has no say on the Great Hall. It's on the east side of Dovercourt, Pantalone's ward but not included in the Ossington freeze.
A year from now, will the belt-tightening moratorium on Ossington have resulted in a liquor-fied muffin top along Dundas and a filled-in booze bottom on Queen?
Locals are wondering.