The Brunswick House has hired paid-duty officers. Is that enough to keep neighbours happy? Probably not.
It’s Ladies’ Night at Ye Olde Brunswick House, aptly titled WTF Fridays. Guys pay a $5 cover charge; girls get one drink ticket. The $3 coat check is mandatory. There’s a lot to like about the Brunny: It’s dark, there are four places to order a drink, and the dance floor is more spacious than at most bars. Flat-screens and generous booths are tucked away past the stripper pole and half a dozen security bros so you can watch TSN in relative peace. The crowd is no more obnoxious than any other group of undergrads—just kids being kids. But the Brunny remains the most controversial bar on Bloor Street West, the bane of Annex residents who complain of public urination, vandalism, and 2 a.m. wake-up calls once drunk students stumble out onto the street.
In 2005, Ottawa’s Abbis Mahmoud bought the Brunny with lofty ambitions: He’d make it family-friendly by day and a music venue by night. People are still waiting. There are often questions about whether Annex bars—like Green Room, Labyrinth Lounge, the Madison, and even Future Bistro—are too loud or too dangerous. Tensions have yet to escalate to the level they did in 2009, when a 23-year-old was shot and killed in a botched robbery in the alley behind the Brunny, but the incident left Annex dwellers with apprehension towards the area’s student hangouts. Labyrinth’s patio application was denied that same summer and the lounge is still without one, and Future must close its patio at 11 p.m. from Monday to Thursday. In October of 2012, Mahmoud began hiring paid-duty police officers for Friday and Saturday nights to address residents’ concerns.
Are paid cops a practical solution for such dense areas? In Vaughan, the main entertainment hub at Interchange Way employs off-duty officers to surround the complex on weekends. It’s effective because once you’re kicked out of a venue, you’re left sitting on the curb unable to hit the other two clubs on the strip. In the Annex, an oust means you’ll have to cross the street, jump in a cab, or take the TTC to any number of places.
I get the impression that the Annex’s problems are being over-exaggerated. In the past five years, the Brunny received just one suspension from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), for six days last August. For other Annex bars, infractions are tame: Green Room had a mere monetary penalty in 2010; Future received one last July. Two of the most popular student hives, Madison and Annex Wreck Room, have clean records. So maybe it’s time to chill out.
Wade MacCallum, chair of the Bloor Annex BIA, regards the Brunny’s hiring of officers as an act of good faith. He hopes they’ll act as scarecrows. “If police officers can’t keep things in line, then who can?” (I remind him of the G20.) MacCallum notes that it’s the buffoonery of bar patrons that is more annoying to residents, not so much that there’s an epidemic of violence. Trinity-Spadina councillor Adam Vaughan agrees. “Most problems wouldn’t even register a complaint or attention if folks just went home minus the screaming,” he says. “[The main concern] is violence spilling onto Bloor, especially at closing.” He notes that student parties at fraternities and sororities are more of a pain than bars are.
One option I’d recommend is Best Bar None, a free, volunteer-based pilot program that partners with establishments to promote responsible serving practices. The idea originated in Manchester, England, and was successful in Alberta; it was brought to Toronto’s entertainment district in October by the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association. In partnership with organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the King-Spadina Residents Association, the AGCO, and Toronto Police Services, Best Bar None visits interested bars, restaurants, and clubs and screens applicants. Successful businesses are accredited with the Best Bar None name. Any venue that has received AGCO disciplinary action in the 12 months prior to its assessment date is not eligible for accreditation. There are also awards. While BBN’s effectiveness in Toronto is still to be determined, The Annex feels like a great candidate for adopting the program. MacCallum plans to research BBN and will bring it up at a future residents’ meeting if he thinks it has potential.
Despite the tribulations, MacCallum says the BIA has “no interest in seeing any business fail; we want to get along.” Would he support a ban on new bar or restaurant openings like the recent one in Parkdale? “Absolutely not,” he says. “I won’t support anything that forces the market. It needs to happen in a natural way.” Unfortunately, for peeved residents, partying and public puking is natural student behaviour, and it’s doubtful that they’ll take their shenanigans elsewhere any time soon.