April 30, 2014 ()
Time to Extend Last Call in Toronto
When I was in high school my parents gave me a perfectly reasonable curfew.
I was to be home every night by midnight, they instructed, and before 11pm if I was driving. At least 95 per cent of my nights out in high school ended around midnight anyway, and the curfew was usually of little concern. Every once in a while, however, there would be an instance where I wanted to stay out longer, but there was no room for negotiation. Rules were rules.
For me, extending drinking hours in Toronto makes sense for a lot of reasons, but my main argument hasn’t really changed since those curfew disputes with my parents. Should the law be changed, I and many other Torontonians will probably be home well before 2 am on most nights, the current last-call, anyway — but for me, it’s not about that. For me, it’s about being treated like an adult, and having the freedom to choose for myself when my night ends.
Issues Caused By The Current Last Call
For those who haven’t been out on the town in a while let me break down a typical evening at a bar or club for your average Torontonian.
Most venues in the city are completely empty at 11 pm as a result of astronomically high alcohol prices, which causes most of the city’s drinking to take place in advance. Arriving after midnight, however, significantly increases time wasted in line, as lineups begin to fill up right at 11. Therefore, a vast majority of partiers across the city and Greater Toronto Area arrive at their final destination within the same single hour, between 11 and midnight.
Since most Torontonians only find themselves inside a bar or club well after 11:30, there is little motivation to leave so shortly after arriving, tempting many to stay out until last call. At 2 am all remaining patrons shuffle out of every bar and club in the city at once, overwhelming both police and cab drivers.
Bigger Picture Arguments
Of course when we discuss extending last-call hours for an entire city factors beyond personal convenience must be taken into consideration. While Toronto currently extends last call until 4 a.m. for special events like TIFF and North by Northeast, an online petition coupled with a looming mayoral election and some provocative words from Montreal mayor Denis Coderre has propelled the conversation surrounding a permanent 4 am last call into the forefront.
I hear a lot of arguments about how a “world class city” needs a “world class nightlife,” a valid argument but hardly relevant when we consider some of the larger ramifications of such a major decision. I’m more swayed by arguments that point to job creation and health and safety. Proponents of last-call extension argue that bar and club owners will be able to make more sales and hire more staff, while cab drivers will be able to take more trips to and from the downtown core over the course of a single evening. They also point to the fact that it will reduce the amount of (often illegal) after-hours clubs, which are more popular in Toronto than in cities where “after hours” isn’t 2:01 am.
“If it’s done in a way that is in the existing establishment and under the eye of regulation, it is much better than it being done in after-hour facilities that are under-regulated and unsafe,” mayoral candidate David Soknacki recently told the Toronto Star.
That same article addressed the issues of police and public transit, both of which present potential hurdles for extending last call, however there hasn’t yet been any research into if or how much additional police or extended TTC hours would cost, so there’s little to be said on those points just yet.
Stop Shouting about Noise
Then of course there’s the noise argument. I’ve learned something about my fellow Torontonians over the few years I’ve been covering this city, specifically when exploring topics like methadone clinics, real estate developments, the downtown airport, homeless shelters and subway routes. Torontonians are very quick to support an idea in principle, “yes we want more public transit, yes we want more addiction treatment facilities, yes we want more homeless shelters, yes we want more competitive airline prices,” and very quick to add those last few words, “but not in (or near or over) my backyard.”
Such is the argument being made by many downtown-core dwellers, who believe a later last call means they’ll be plugging their ears for a couple hours more on weekends, an argument which might be true to a certain extent but overall misguided. Yes, there would be more intoxicated people roaming your downtown street at 4 am than there were previously, however this noise will pale by comparison to the noise pollution currently caused at 2 am, when the entire nightlife crowd is expelled simultaneously from every venue in the city, suddenly finding themselves in a Hunger Games style competition to get a cab to take them home.
As it currently stands a 2 am last call sees a majority of patrons leaving establishments at the same time simply because 2 am is relatively early. Should last call be extended to 4 am, as it is on a number of occasions in this city already, we are unlikely to see the same sized crowd on Toronto streets at ANY hour.
Instead, what we’re likely to find is that different people will come and go at different hours. Some might arrive at 11 and leave at 2 as they previously did, others might arrive at midnight and leave at 3, others might stay out right up until 4 am — the point is that with more time to spare and more opportunities to call it quits the density of the last-call crowd is significantly depleted, causing less (noisy) lines outside of bars, less (noisy) fighting for transportation home, and less (noisy) people roaming the streets at once. Of course there will be noise — that goes hand in hand with living downtown — but extending last call won’t simply push the loudest hours of the early morning back a couple hours, rather it will reduce the amount of noise at any given time, and spread it out over a longer period.