Most bars slapped with their first over-capacity charge are subject to fines or two-week liquor-licence suspensions. So why is Dundas West’s Unlovable facing an indefinite suspension without any prior warning?
When Unlovable co-owner Jamal Watson found out his bar at Dundas and Gladstone had its liquor licence suspended with a proposal to revoke, he was at a loss for what to do: “I didn’t know whether to shit or vomit.” With his place packed for NXNE—during which the bar was granted an extended 4 a.m. last-call licence—Toronto police arrived late Thursday night and declared the bar over-capacity.
Watson concedes this was the case, and estimates the bar had around 50 people in it, despite its licensed capacity of 30. But he notes that the punishment isn’t typically so sudden. “Usually, when you do go over-capacity, you get a warning and a fine or something like that—that’s what I was expecting.” But that wasn’t the response: Unlovable was handed an immediate and indefinite liquor-licence suspension.
Ab Campion, a spokesperson for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), says Unlovable had 160 patrons when the police checked it out at 3 a.m. last Friday morning. He says that the suspension is for the public good. “Public safety issues are always very serious issues. The weight of the penalty on conviction is [thus] pretty high.”
Of Toronto’s 4,100 licensed establishments, 77 earned suspensions in 2011. At the time of publication, the AGCO did not have any numbers on the amount of establishments that had their liquor licences outright revoked. According to Campion, Unlovable did not have any prior suspensions or warnings; when asked why Unlovable’s first infraction yielded such a harsh punishment, Campion stressed that the degree to which the bar was over-capacity warranted the swift, severe response.
Upon hearing the AGCO’s assertion that Unlovable had more than five times its legal capacity, Watson was incredulous. “That’s impossible,” he exclaimed. “That’s insane. I can’t even fit 160 people in here. There’s no way. There were PAs all over the front, drum gear all over the front … I’ll go on record and say it, [the 160 count] is actually a lie.”
Watson also mentioned that, by the time Unlovable was closed down by the police at 3 a.m., the bar had made $1,700; on a typical Friday night—when they have to start turning people away at the door—they make upwards of $2,000.
Unlovable has 15 days to appeal its indefinite liquor-licence suspension with the Licence Appeal Tribunal, and Watson plans to do so. “I’m going to fight it, as long as I can. To the point where people know that you can’t just push people around and say things that are egregious.”
The bar has received a fair deal of support from sympathetic patrons. On their Facebook page, many people have left messages of support and asked how they can help. Local electro-pop outfit Phedre has even put together a quick benefit song to help fund the appeals process.
The support has meant a lot to Watson, who has had an emotional few days staring down the very real prospect of losing the bar at which he has spent nearly every day for the past two years. He says he has done everything from crying to hitting punching bags to trying to relax in a butterfly sanctuary.
In the end, he’s optimistic: “I’m very confident that this is going to be repealed and I’m very confident that we’ll be open soon.”
As the bar can’t turn a profit by selling chips and pop, it will be closed until further notice.