Councillor Josh Matlow says it’s time for Mint Bar Lounge to stop the music — after 11 p.m. that is.
That’s because the Ward 22 councillor says the establishment, zoned as a bar and/or restaurant, has been illegally operating as a nightclub since it opened in April 2010.
Apart from being zoned incorrectly, the city is taking Mint to court in December for operating an entertainment venue without a proper licence.
Matlow hopes the owners will be convicted.
“Whatever they do in the future, they have already been completely negligent and have dismissed all requests to abide by the bylaw thus far,” Matlow said. “We’re definitely taking them to court.”
City regulations define an entertainment establishment or nightclub as “a premises, including but not limited to a dance hall or disco, used to provide dance facilities for patrons, where seating is not provided for the majority of the patrons and where food or beverage may be for sale as an ancillary use.”
Matlow said Mint does not have the required number of seats to operate as a bar or restaurant. He said that also means music and sounds from the bar should cease after 11 p.m.
“Virtually every night, local residents are not only hearing noise, but there are throngs of partiers who go out into the streets, and there have been examples of people doing drugs and drinking on the street.”
Mint owner Steven Curtis contends the club is not in violation of the bylaw that requires a certain number of seats.
“We’re seated 196, municipal standards came in and concurred with that,” he said. “That meets our capacity. We meet all criteria that way.”
That’s not what the city says. The city’s manager of licensing enforcement, Richard Mucha, confirmed that Mint was still in violation of city bylaws at their most recent visit.
“The last inspection that licensing and standards conducted was in October, and charges were laid as a result of the officer’s observance of violations,” Mucha said.
The charges were operating as an entertainment establishment/nightclub without the proper licence and contravention of the noise bylaw.
The establishment variously describes itself as a bar, lounge and nightclub in flyers. They advertise “limousine, exclusive VIP booths and bottle service” on a Toronto entertainment website and recently held an event on Nov. 11 called ‘Red carpet affair’ featuring various DJs and performers.
“We’ve got a kitchen there that’s selling food,” Curtis pointed out. “At nights, yeah, we do have basically a lounge club environment and that’s what it is.”
“People dance and that’s going to happen,” he added.
To Curtis it’s an issue of semantics.
“We’re a legitimate business, we pay our taxes, pay our staff, pay our rent and I don’t know what the problem is,” he said. “We’re gainfully employing people and we just want people to leave us alone.”
Curtis acknowledged that zoning for a bar or restaurant is different from zoning for a club.
“In regard to zoning … we’ve looked into it, we spoke to the city about it and we may not qualify,” he said.
Despite this, he said Mint still bills itself as a club on flyers or for special events.
Matlow says that’s part of the problem.
“Even using the term nightclub is advertising something that shouldn’t be existing,” he said.
Bylaw officers first investigated the establishment in January 2011. They subsequently returned several times and found the establishment was still operating illegally.
“Mint has done absolutely nothing to remedy the situation at all,” Matlow said. “Our bylaw officers have been there six or seven times and they’ve just been absolutely unwilling to respond.”
Matlow said in addition to the music coming from the venue itself, the larger issue is attendants are loud and unruly after they leave the establishment.
“It’s not the right neighbourhood for a nightclub,” Matlow said. “You’ve got an elementary school on the next block, a high school around the corner, and many residents who live directly across the club.
“There have (also) been stabbings and stories of people coming into their condo and seeing people doing drugs in their lobby.”
The establishment was also the site of a shooting in January, which contributed to residents’ concerns.
“They’ve been frustrated by Mint since it opened, but the shooting certainly exacerbated it,” Matlow said.
The issue became more urgent when developer Menkes Life Storeys purchased the property, which houses both Mint and nearby Unicorn Pub.
The developer requested a community consultation meeting, but Matlow moved an amendment to the zoning application for 161–175 Eglinton Avenue East that said all issues stemming from Mint’s illegal operation must be solved before the consultation moves forward.
Mint is currently a sub-lessee with the Unicorn Pub. Matlow said he’s working to organize a meeting with the owner of the pub in order for them to understand their legal responsibilities as Mint’s landlord.
“What I’m going to be telling the owner of the Unicorn is that you either get them to abide by the bylaw immediately, or we will stop at nothing to shut it down,” Matlow said.
The city has a court date with the owner of Mint on Dec. 13 in regards to a charge laid in January 2011 for operating without a proper licence. The first hearing for the October charges would likely be in January, Mucha said.
If convicted, the owner would face a monetary fine, determined by the justice of the peace. According to Mucha, the courts could impose a closure order on the business, but that doesn’t usually happen after a first conviction.