The Pinball Café is shutting down, an apparent victim of collateral damage from Parkdale's bar ban.
The popular arcade-themed establishment on Queen West near Roncesvalles posted a message to its website Monday declaring that it has been "CLOSED by order of The City of Toronto."
It was not the first hint of trouble for the café. Rachel Hazzard and her husband Jason opened the spot last February, but quickly found themselves in hot water with city officials because Toronto's zoning bylaw prohibits more than two game machines in any restaurant.
The Pinball Café had nine games, so the Hazzards were forced to get rid of seven. That should have made them compliant, but in October council unexpectedly approved "interim control bylaw" that banned any new restaurants or bars from opening on Queen west of Dufferin for one year.
The Hazzards say that as a result of the interim bylaw, when they applied for a business licence, the city turned them down.
"After agreeing to remove all but two pinball or gaming devices and operate only as a restaurant/bar our subsequent application for a business permit fell under the jurisdiction of the interim control bylaw and was denied," the statement on the café's website says.
But the local councillor, Gord Perks, says the city isn't to blame for the café's demise. On Monday afternoon, he posted a statement of his own in which he claims the Pinball Café had been operating without a business licence since it opened.
Perks says the "owners had a zoning issue to overcome in order to get a licence" and he advised them in February to either apply for a zoning variance or ask city council to change the zoning of the property, but they did neither.
The councillor, who sponsored the interim control bylaw at the October council meeting, points out that it cannot shutter any business that already has a permit, only deny permits for new ones. Because the Pinball Café never had a permit in the first place, it is technically not being shut down. Instead it's being denied a licence to operate.
"I have confirmed today that The Pinball Cafe was not ordered closed by the City of Toronto. No City staff issued any order against the Café," Perks wrote. "I am sad to see Pinball go, but it was a decision of the owners to operate without a licence, and their decision to close."
The Hazzards did not immediately return a request for comment.
Update: Tuesday December 11, 3:32 pm.
We finally got a hold of Jason Hazzard Tuesday morning, and he confirmed that the Pinball Café had been operating without a business licence.
"I opened the Pinball Café illegally," Hazzard said. "Because I didn't know - along with the rest of the city except for three people down at the zoning and bylaw office - that (more than two) pinball machines were illegal. I didn't know that."
"And if the city wants to cry foul, and everybody wants to say, ‘you're an idiot because you didn't do your homework,' fair enough. I can take that."
Hazzard says he doesn't blame Councillor Perks for the café's downfall, but he takes issue with those who would suggest he should have fought the city over the zoning bylaw outlawing arcade games.
"I probably should have. But I didn't have thousands and thousands of dollars and all the time in the world to hire lawyers to fight a law that is ridiculous," he said.
Asked whether the Pinball Café might return at a later date, Hazzard said, "I'm not commenting on where I'm going from here."