The story behind the story

Here's this weekend's reminder that there's often more information about a situation than what's apparent to the naked eye.

On Friday, Toronto Life ran this piece on a new restaurant in midtown Toronto called SIP Wine Bar. I don't know what you'd call this. It's not a review, but it doesn't appear to be paid advertising. Public service? Justifying their existence?

Anyway, it's wine and pizza. I mean, who doesn't like that, right? Pizza in 60 seconds? High ceilings? It all sounds lovely.

It happens that this place is right across the street from me. So, I'm aware that there's a story behind the story of this "modern trattoria".

  • How exactly were they able to find a space that could fit a "big, wrap-around bar" with high ceilings, and find it on a residential side street in the much-sought-after Yonge and Eglinton area? Why, courtesy of a property owner who was willing to turn two units of rental apartment stock into a commercial space, that's how. While the building is zoned commercial/residential, it's always been strictly residential for the nearly fifteen years I've been living here. I wonder how the folks who live in the other apartments like their new neighbour?
  • How exactly are they able to offer their "fair-sized wine list", again on what's a residential side street? Why, by not visibly posting the signage on the property that's required of new applicants for liquor licenses, that's how. As a result, the only objectors to the license application were people who lived in that building and knew directly what was happening. This is a breach of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario's (AGCO) regulations about which the AGCO is not terrifically concerned.

It's not unheard of in midtown to have commercial properties where residential frontages co-exist with liquor licenses. However, in all those cases, the commercial properties are located directly at the corner of Yonge and wrap around onto the residential side street — think Fox and Fiddle at Heath St., Coquine at Manor Rd., or Duke of Kent at Roehampton Ave. Otherwise, you can walk Yonge Street from St. Clair Avenue in the south to Yonge Boulevard in the north, and not one of the commercial establishments located entirely on one of those dozens of residential side streets has a liquor license. At least, not until now. A precedent's been set, and it's been set without any meaningful chance for anyone in the community affected to object.

More incredibly, SIP has been granted liquor licenses for both indoor and outdoor facilities, despite the fact that they haven't been issued a boulevard cafe permit by the City of Toronto. Never mind that AGCO regulations require an applicant to demonstrate that they're eligible for an outdoor license in their jurisdiction — another tiny hitch in the AGCO's policies that doesn't seem to concern them.

Now, I'm not anti-fun. I would never have moved to this neighbourhood if I wasn't prepared for crowded sidewalks, late-night noise, and the occasional drunken moron. But I do believe that doing business is a privilege, not a right, and that it shouldn't be an unnecessary burden to do things by the rules, particularly when the rules themselves aren't burdensome.

So, I invite you all to come visit midtown Toronto, and to patronize one of the seemingly hundreds of restaurants where you can get a pizza and a nice glass of wine. And while I would never tell you not to visit SIP Wine Bar while you're here — because I'm pretty sure that there'd be some way that saying something like that would be actionable — I'm just telling you that you'll never find me sitting alongside their "exposed brick walls". Because I know the story behind the story. And now you do too.