City's bars need later closing time, music industry tells councillors

Last call at Toronto's bars could soon be significantly later than 2 a.m., if the city's music industry advisory council has its way.

Entertainment venues can't survive if last call is at 2 a.m., music advisory council says

The city's music advisory council will argue on Monday that closing time at Toronto's bars should be pushed beyond 2 a.m., as many other cities around the world have done. (CBC)

Last call at Toronto's bars could soon be significantly later, if the city's music industry advisory council has its way.

The current 2 a.m. closing time has been in place for 20 years, and Spencer Sutherland, a nightclub owner and chair of the council's business development group, said Wednesday it's time for a change.

"Two a.m. is just too early for these [music] venues to close," he said Wednesday. "It's difficult for venues to survive ... with a limited number of serving hours."

Spencer Sutherland, who owns the nightclub Nocturne on Queen Street West, also sits on the city's music advisory council. (CBC)

On Monday, the council will ask the economic development committee to instruct city staff to begin studying the value of the night-time economy, and in particular the feasibility of later closing times for bars. No specific time is mentioned in the request.

Coun. Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), the committee's chair, said Wednesday he has an open mind when it comes to a later closing time.

"I personally have no interest in being in a bar drinking till two, three, four, five, six o'clock in the morning," he said. "But that's just me personally. There might be others that have that interest."

City Coun. Michael Thompson chairs the economic development committee which on Monday will discuss ammending the rule that forces bars to close at 2 a.m. in favour of later hours. (Mike Smee)

He said more people are working at different times of the day and night, and that could mean there's a demand for entertainment venues to be open at alternative hours to serve them.

"The Toronto of the 70s is not the Toronto of 2016," he said. "Toronto 2016 is much more vibrant, much more engaging, much more hip and chic."

However, Thompson also emphasized that while some people may want a later last call, he's not yet convinced that there's a real need.

"Is it necessary to actually have bars open until four o'clock every day? At this particular point in time, I don't see the need. However, it may exist ... and we've been asked to study that."

Liz Sauter, who lives in the entertainment district, which she says once had 92 nightclubs within a 1.5 km radius, opposes extended hours for the city's bars. (Mike Smee)

There is opposition, already.

Liz Sauter, of the Toronto Noise Coalition, said Thursday she was unaware of the move to push back closing time, but she thinks the idea will not fly with residents.

She lives in the entertainment district and she predicted "there'll be more problems of violence, urination, vomiting — all the things the businesses in this area and residences in this area will have to clean up the next morning."

She also questions whether it would be worth a business person's time to remain open through the night to serve "five or six or a dozen people. It doesn't make sense."

Security, transit concerns raised

Thompson said part of the staff report will need to address questions about security, transportation, excess noise and garbage if a later closing time is recommended.

But Sutherland said some of the problems could be avoided if extended closing times are staggered, so that "it doesn't release everyone onto the street at the same time. That makes the problem worse than it needs to be."

Even if the economic development committee eventually recommends a later closing time and city council agrees, Thompson said it would probably be a year or more before the new rules are in place.

There are approximately 4,300 establishments with a licence to serve alcohol in Toronto. About two-thirds are restaurants and bars. The rest include hotels, grocery stores, stadiums, movie theatres and golf courses.