More Toronto music venues could be serving alcohol until 4 a.m this summer

Toronto Music Passport festival organizers want at least 25 music venues permitted to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. this summer.

Toronto Music Passport festival wants liquor licenses extended for more venues

Organizers of the Toronto Music Passport festival want the liquor licences for more music venues extended to 4 a.m. this summer. (Frederic Lacelle/Radio-Canada)

The last call for alcohol could be extended until 4 a.m. at more music venues this summer, if organizers with the Toronto Music Passport festival have their way.

"Late licensing is an important component of most music festivals that run in Toronto. More bars want to participate. They're willing to do bigger and better shows," said nightclub owner Spencer Sutherland. 

The Toronto Music Passport festival, which will run for for nine consecutive weekends this summer, was formed last year in response to the "alarming closure of music venues" in Toronto, according to the website. 

Last year, 12 music venues who participated were approved for the extended liquor licence, including Sutherland's own Queen West nightclub, Nocturne — but he's hoping to at least double that number this year.

More than 200 music venues are being invited to register online.

"I think there's an appetite for late licencing," said nightclub owner Spencer Sutherland. (Grant Linton/CBC News )

"We're just sort of casting a wide net to everyone. I think we'll probably have about 25 or so venues participate, but not necessarily every venue on every night," said Sutherland. 

Summer is slow time for venues

Sutherland, who also sits on the city's music advisory council, said the summer is a slower time for indoor music venues because of outdoor festivals, cultural festivals and people leaving the city to travel. 

Looking back at last year's event, he said that "all the venues that participated felt that it made the difference between breaking even versus... operating at a loss," he said.  

"Offering late licensing programs in the summertime actually helps to engage the tourist market and I think showcases Toronto as a world class city," he said.

“The idea is to actually help the music industry,” says councillor Michael Thompson, who is supportive of Toronto Music Passport festival. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

Councillor Michael Thompson agrees. 

"We are a grown up city now. It is no longer Toronto, the sleepy city that it used to be — it is now an area that competes globally with respect to cities around the world, who are doing some of these things," said the Ward 37 councillor.

Thompson, who serves as chair of the economic development committee, supports the idea of expanding the number of music venues that can operate with a late liquor licence during the festival.

"Clearly there is a desire and interest to create a balance with respect to what the impact would be with respect to noise and other concerns — safety and so on," he said.  

Extra hours of noise cause concern

That's where Ian Carmichael of the Toronto Noise Coalition comes in. 

"Last year in the City of Toronto there were more than 12,000 noise complaints," he said.

He said he couldn't say for sure whether extending the hours of service at venues will create more noise, "but anecdotally, you would assume that later nights means more noise." 

He's calling for the city to do a better job at enforcing noise bylaws across the board.

City council will have to approve the final plans for the festival and its participants before it then goes to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. 

Asked whether this was the first step toward an attempt at extending the liquor licence hours across the city for all venues, Sutherland pushed back. 
Sutherland says extended liquor licenses are good for the music festival, but wouldn't work year-round. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

"I think there's an appetite for late licensing, but I think it would be a mistake to just make it available all day, everyday to everyone across the city. I think that residents wouldn't be happy with that. I don't even think it works for the venues," he said. 

The Toronto Music Passport festival runs from July 6 to September 2.  

About the Author

Makda Ghebreslassie

CBC Toronto reporter

Makda is a CBC Video-Journalist, who from time to time fills in as TV news anchor and a newsreader on Here and Now and Fresh Air. She worked in newsrooms in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor before moving back home to Toronto.