The clock just struck 2 a.m. at the Rodbard household.
For 67-year-old Don Rodbard, it’s just past his bedtime. For the thousands of clubbers spilling onto nearby Peter and Richmond streets, it’s just past last call.
And while his night may be coming to a close, for many partiers it has just begun.
A 20-year resident of the area and vice-chair of the King-Spadina Residents Association, Rodbard resides in the heart of the entertainment district. He lives on Wilmer street with his wife, within 100 metres of 15 clubs. Every weekend, he watches patrons taking the party from the clubs to the streets.
“Where I live, the licence capacity approaches 10,000 persons within a block radius of my front porch,” he said. “I can tell you most of those people had way too much to drink when they get out at two … You don’t want to be on the streets at that time of night.”
On an average weekend, Rodbard says excessive noise, fighting and open use of drugs and alcohol are common. He has had his car vandalized and his property defaced.
“The quality of life has changed,” Rodbard said. “It’s become a drinking zone for 20-somethings…it’s like homecoming weekend every weekend.”
But it wasn’t always like this. When he first moved into the area, Rodbard knew it was a rapidly developing entertainment district with restaurants, bars, and sports establishments.
In the mid 90s, the city passed a bylaw allowing many nightclubs to open in the dense area. He said from that point on, the weekends got crazy. Few know that as well as Detective Sergeant Mike Ervick, whose police unit is deployed in the club district every weekend.
“It’s always chaotic at 2:30 a.m,” he said. “It’s one of the only places in Canada that I can say there’s going to be a fight for sure.”
At the club district’s peak in the late 90s, Rodbard said there were 94 clubs with a total capacity approaching 70,000 on a weekly basis. Today, the number has decreased drastically to just under 40. Ervick feels the area has calmed down as a result.
“There’s still the old issues, but they’re becoming less frequent,” he said.
Barry McLeod, co-owner of Crocodile Rock on Adelaide Street, knows the challenges that arise in operating a sustainable nightclub.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” he said. “There are a lot of things that have to be done behind the scenes to make sure you have proper policies and procedures in place to ensure responsible and safe operation.”
McLeod said a crucial policy is to have experienced staff who are attentive to their patron’s state of intoxication.
Many clubs have been closed due to not paying attention to such details, as well as infractions such allowing minors or overcrowding clubs. Ervick feels it’s these clubs that are the root of the problem, because they only care about maximizing profits.
Adam Vaughan, councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, categorizes many of these establishments as “Big box clubs”, huge clubs owned by large entertainment empires that are only about making money.
”These big box nightclubs don’t really care what kind of music they’re putting on, as long as they have a club full of kids buying lots of booze,” he said. “If it creates a war outside, that’s for the rest of the city to deal with.”
He says the issue is that the district has evolved from one offering unique culture and music to one that is strictly business oriented.
“The problem is that the art-form has been co-opted by corporate interests, and has been morphed from an underground movement into big box entertainment.”
Janice Solomon, executive director of the Entertainment District Business Improvement Area (BIA), has acknowledged the issues the area faces, but also highlighted the positive aspects.
She says the club district is important for the city’s vitality, as well as its global image.
“You want to make sure you have a very manageable, safe, and vibrant nightlife,” she said. “Cities that have turned into bedroom communities and have lost their nightlife will tell you that it creates a different image about what that city is.”
Solomon stressed that the neighbourhood is in a constant state of transition.
“What we don’t want to do is emerge from this transformation and find that we’ve lost that sense of vibrancy,” Solomon said.
The BIA is working on a rejuvenation of John Street, better lighting, and a widening of the streetscape for safer travel.
“We’re hoping we can actually build on it and make it better, safer, and more attractive for people to work and visit here.”