“Ladies! We’ll give you lines! Whatever you want!” an ambitious young man shouted from a minivan heading along King Street West late last Friday night. A pair of women ignored his offer and snickered. A tired-looking hot dog vendor methodically ripped open packages of buns. A quartet of blondes clad in all black stomped up to the bouncer at F-Stop nightclub and were quickly waved in. And a row of cabs idled beneath a “NO PARKING ANY TIME” sign. King and Spadina Residents Association member Dieter Riedel leaned in to scold a driver. “Don’t you see that sign?”
Riedel was leading us on a late-night tour of the neighbourhood, from Spadina to Bathurst, south to Wellington, and north to Adelaide. Like some residents associations around the city, Riedel’s group focuses primarily on nightlife issues. In his five years living here, he has witnessed a steady influx of club traffic migrating westward from the entertainment district—along with the associated problems of noise and general obnoxiousness. The shooting of a man outside Loki Lounge a few weeks ago has only exacerbated concerns.
Conflicts between residents and nightclub owners are nothing new. Developers wanting to sell units in edgy, trendy neighbourhoods make idyllic projections about downtown living—which often create a set of unrealistic assumptions about how everyone will get along. Riedel has become schooled in the language of liquor licence regulations and city noise bylaws, going so far as to do a walkabout with police to point out the omnipresent drunken whooping, booming bass, honking taxis, and piles of puke. As we traversed the strip, a seemingly endless ribbon of orange cabs wound around the block. As one pulled onto King Street, it nearly bumped into a police horse wearing a riot shield over its eyes.
As we walked past Uniun nightclub, groups of shivering patrons stood around smoking. (Bylaws have corralled smokers into outdoor holding pens, where booze-fuelled conversations waft up to bedrooms nearby.) Within minutes, the club’s general manager, Graham Thompson, made a beeline for Riedel, with whom he’s familiar. “You know we gotta play fair on both sides,” snapped Thompson, who mistook my iPhone for a decibel counter. “You should let us take sound readings up there some day if you’re going to be taking pictures in the laneway. We’ve got to be fair. Because I want to work with you, right? Yeah.”
The smokers puffed and flirted beneath the watchful doorman while Thompson filled in a bit of the neighbourhood’s history: “There’s been a nightclub in here for 16 years,” he said. The first one was called MFN, short for “Middle of F&$#in’ Nowhere,” because at that time, there was virtually nothing around it. When Riedel expressed concerns about the shooting around the corner at the end of March, Thompson got a bit philosophical, lifting his pant leg to show a bullet-wound scar from when he was a bouncer in Edmonton decades ago. “You can have 300 good nights but you have one bad one and everyone always remembers the bad one,” he said. Like reluctant partners at a middle-school dance, they continued the awkward dialogue for a few minutes before we departed.
As the cranes creaked and swayed over the hole where the slew of fancy new Thompson Residences condos will go, visiting clubbers continued their giddy spree. “We Are Young” by fun. warbled out of a bar as a drunken young woman stepped onto the sidewalk, did a little stagger, and then opted to lean against a dirty window.
“We’ve tried very hard to communicate to [club] owners that if we don’t hear you, you’re not a problem to us,” stressed Riedel. “If we can get that impression across, I think everybody can live together quite well.” His optimism stayed with us, at least until we spotted a young man resting his head on the buzzer keypad of an apartment and urinating onto the sidewalk, careful not to pee on his shoes.