They pay their taxes and they want peace and quiet.
“I pay my taxes and I support the businesses here and I’m supposed to take a back seat to someone who comes from Scarborough because this is the gay village?” complains Mutual St resident and out gay man El-Farouk Khaki.
“We’re being told that we are secondary to the people who come here for brunch on Sundays. What kind of bullshit is that? I don’t think so – no. It’s my neighbourhood and I will fight to defend it.”
The battle lines have been drawn during two days of hearings into an application for a liquor licence for a new Church St pub, The Hair Of The Dog.
It’s in a space that already had a liquor licence as the old straight steakhouse LeBaron (the licence has since expired). The would-be new pub is owned by Fab magazine’s Michael Schwarz and Keir MacRae.
The application is supported by City Councillor Kyle Rae.
But local residents just might rename the bar The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back.
“My problem with The Hair Of The Dog is not with The Hair Of The Dog,” says Khaki, though he’s opposing the liquor licence. “It’s a much bigger issue. It’s not about The Hair Of The Dog. It’s not about Michael Schwarz. It’s not about any of that. It’s about what’s reasonable. At what point does a community get sacrificed for people to come and be entertained?”
Yet there’s been a liquor licensed establishment at that corner of Church and Wood streets for years.
Khaki, and fellow neighbours, Christina Nielsen and Meirav Livne-Bar, have pointed out at the licence hearings that the snowball growth of the gay village has meant that nearly 30 establishments already have liquor licences in the neighbourhood.
Some people who live here are feeling bitten by standards of behaviour set by this emerging adult entertainment district in what used to be a residential neighbourhood.
They are in no way a uniform group.
Khaki talks about the need for diversity to keep the downtown lively; Livne-Bar seems visibly judgmental about the adult activity that goes on in the schoolyard at night, and Nielsen repeats like a mantra her concerns about “the children.”
“I’ve lived here for 20 years. I can deal with change. It’s not that I can’t deal with change,” says Nielsen, a local parent extremely active in Church Street Public School. “But how much? When is the change going out of balance with the residents who live here?”
Nielsen discusses the “spill over” garbage that the school’s caretaker spends an hour and a half every morning cleaning off her children’s playground – “Human feces in the tires of the play equipment, crack bags, condoms, syringes – a lot.”
She claims that despite the caretakers’ efforts, children still regularly bring in hash pipes and other paraphernalia they have found in the yard.
“It’s not a metaphysical or imaginary danger,” says Khaki. “It’s a very real risk.”
What’s that got to do with a gay pub?
Khaki, Nielsen and Livne-Barn tell tales of partiers puking in flower beds, peeing in the playground and having sex under bright security lights. This is not about straight or gay, they say, but more about respect.
The most recent couple that they complain about is heterosexual.
“We can’t control people – and we don’t want to,” says Nielsen. “But when you put a bar beside a school it’s only common sense there’s going to be some fall out. Some people lose their discretion under the use of alcohol.”
The part of the conflict particular to The Hair Of The Dog’s application is its proximity to Church Street Public School. It’s the only other property that shares the block with the junior school.
According to Nielsen, parents are concerned that children will be learning the wrong lessons when their classroom windows overlook a bar patio all day long. They’re also concerned that night-time use of the playground and the resulting debris will increase if bar traffic moves one block south to include the corner adjacent the playground.
“Children in this community are a minority,” says Nielsen. “There is so little space set aside for them in the urban landscape.” She is concerned the presence of this bar as a neighbour will compromise one of the few children’s spaces left in the area.
Khaki worries that the very quality of safety that attracted gay men and lesbians to the area may be lost if concerned residents are driven out of the area. “This is a vibrant, thriving neighbourhood,” says Khaki. “Partly because the people who live here. A neighbourhood like this is as safe and as welcoming because of the people who chose to live here.”
“We’re the eyes on the community,” says Nielsen. “The constant eyes. We care because we live right here.”
A decision on Hair Of The Dog’s liquor licence is expected by the end of the summer.