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The patsies of Parkdale? Bar owners say they shoulder blame for entire neighbourhood

March 31st, 2011 · 5 Comments

Skadarlija owner Sam Sri says he feels like the fall-guy for the neighbourhood. Photo Rebecca Payne/Gleaner News

By Rebecca Payne


The closure of Captain Jack’s and denial of a rooming house application for the Parkdale “problem spot” does not mean that some area business owners are satisfied.

The West Parkdale Neighbours Group (WPNG) was formed exclusively to take action against three bars that members consider to be problematic: the now closed Captain Jack’s (1521 Queen St. W.), Grace Place (1656 Queen St. W.), and Skadarlija (1608 Queen St. W.). According to John Silva, founding WPNG member and owner of Poor John’s Cafe (1610 Queen St. W.), “[Scadarlija and Grace Place] continue to be a problem.”

Owners and staff at these bars deny the allegations, and feel they are being treated as scapegoats for the neighbourhood’s problems.

“I’m here about eight years, I not have any problems, now after this guy Poor John move in, he don’t like my customer. This lady next door [Feather Factory] is going with him. He talk about crack people, people peeing outside—all Queen Street people pee outside,” said Sam Sri, owner of Skadarlija.

Sri also owns a convenience store at 1521, a bar on Roncesvalles Avenue, and “a couple rooming houses.”

“Most of the people, they don’t know me … When [Silva] opened his patio I say ‘You need help, let me know.’ But all other neighbours didn’t want the patio. Somebody drink beer in the street, he call cops and say my customer. Anything happen in the street, he say my customer. There’s too many things going on in Parkdale.”

Sri also said that Silva complains when his customers smoke out front of Skadarlija. “He leave table and chair outside [on the sidewalk]. His customer smoke, it’s okay. Mine smoke, he says it’s going in his place. He against me but I say nothing. They call cops, cops keep coming, [but] they don’t do anything—nothing’s wrong inside.”

Likewise, David Zhang, an employee of Grace Place, believes that it’s not his establishment that is the problem. “I think it’s Parkdale. That’s the people. I don’t let those people come here, I don’t serve them.”

Neighbouring businesses complain that Grace Place over-serves Patrons, who then cause problems. Photo Rebecca Payne/Gleaner News

Grace Place patron David Hanuman, said that “David runs a good establishment here. He really does. He treats people well.”

But the WPNG maintain that these establishments over-serve customers, who then cause problems in the neighbourhood. Silva mentions customers urinating in doorways, vomiting on nearby properties, and starting violent fights. “For me, the ‘last straw’ occurred when two men fighting in front of Skadarlija drifted toward my property and pushed each other through my front door, resulting in $500 worth of damage,” wrote Silva in a document sent to the Gleaner.

Silva believes 11 Division is not policing the area adequately. “We feel it has to do with the police division … they don’t have a vice squad, [incidents] go to major crimes, and my sense is they really consider this a nuisance, if there’s over-serving or a fight. There are enough visits to this place, it seems to me there could have been charges laid long ago.”

Silva also mentioned last November’s throat slashing outside Grace Place. “Imagine that happening in Bloor West Village. Would that bar be open the next day? There’s something weird going on.”

Staff Sergeant Bruce Morrison, of 11 Division’s Community Response Unit, said that although 1521 has changed hands, criminal activity in the area still continues. “We’ve been dealing with [1521] for years, and as it changes hands there’s busy times and quiet times. Right now it’s in one of its quiet times, [but] people that were in the building are still in the area.”

“We still have problems with prostitution, drug use, disorderly conduct on the street, it’s still going on, it’s just not localized at 1521.”

Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) is aware of the ire some community members have for these bars. “I’ve had several meetings with the Parkdale Residents’ Association and local business owners about concerns of those bars. We’ve sat them down with city inspectors and AGCO inspectors. There has been police and AGCO presence in there. They’ve not been able to find either of those owners [of Skadarlija or Grace Place] in any violation.”

Perks said that he’s met with the owner of Skadarlija and “tried to encourage him to be a bit more proactive.”

“There are limits on how much responsibility a bar owner has for his patrons. When they’re not in his place, there’s difficulty enforcing their behaviour.”

Morrison said that police will continue to do everything they can to keep the neighbourhood safe. “We’re trying to improve the quality of life down there, one person at a time. Enforcement continues and proactive patrols continue.”

The former owners of 1521 Queen St. W., Radika “Patsy” Mahadeo and Narotam “Sharma” Misir, applied for a rooming house licence, but were denied in January. “The applicants who had applied lost possession of the property earlier this year,” said Joe Magalhaes, supervisor of investigations for Toronto and East York with Municipal Licencing and Standards (MLS). “It was the rooming house commissioner’s decision to consider the application abandoned, and that no further action was required. The current possessor has put the property up for sale.”

Magalhaes also said that the current owner of 1521 is evicting all tenants of the building, which has retail space on the first floor and residential space on the second. The relocation of the tenants is being overseen by MLS’s relocation and support worker, to make sure that “people are housed suitably, in affordable housing.” Although Magalhaes could not say how many people were being relocated, he did say that not all of the rooms were occupied.

Silva said that whatever happens next, the WPNG will be prepared to take action. “We don’t know what the future of 1521 is, but if the next owner has the same plan, for a hotel and a bar, we will be fighting that with every means that we can.”

Update: since we went to press with this story, 1521 Queen St. W. has been sold and the WPNG are currently trying to negotiate terms with the new owner.

Tags: Liberty · News · People

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 M Stevens // Mar 31, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    The owners of the two bars clearly don’t have much respect for those who live in the neighbourhood.

    Gord Perks’ claim that there isn’t much that the owners of the establishments can do once their patrons leave is trite. The owners could practice the Smart Serve guidelines they’re trained in and not over serve their patrons.

    I don’t see people falling down drunk or brawling on Roncessvales or further down Queen Street. This is a problem that’s unique to these two locations.

    If these two owners want less headaches, they should invest in their businesses and attract a better customer. Profit will follow.

  • 2 Scribblez // Mar 31, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I personally find it extremely offensive that Mr. Sri would say, “all Queen Street people pee outside.” I have worked in Parkdale for many years and never once have I felt the need to urinate on the street, when I have a perfectly good washroom indoors. The patrons of these establishments are a constant nuisance; providing a constant obstacle course of drunken comments and threats every time one is to pass in front. With a string of constant violence and substance abuse spewing from these establishments I would wonder how anyone could even consider wanting them to stay?

  • 3 Gleaner article about West Parkdale | Parkdale Neighbours // Mar 31, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    […] Gleaner has posted an article about the issues in our little corner of […]

  • 4 J Silva // Apr 1, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    I think it’s great that you tried to provide a balanced view on this issue because Parkdale is a complex place where many viewpoints have to be respected. Having said that, this one is about as black and white as they get. These bars provide nothing for the community. They enable people with addiction issues and they provide an income for owners who are unethical enough to exploit that weakness. Everyone else is left to pick up the pieces.

  • 5 Clair Culliford // Apr 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Dear Editor:

    The Gleaner’s article, “The Patsies of Parkdale,” states that some area business owners are dissatisfied. If the Gleaner were to survey all the business owners from Triller to Beaty, the two blocks where Grace Place and Skadarlija are located, they would find that the great majority of them are dissatisfied, disheartened, and discouraged by these two bars. Some are thinking of moving their businesses from the area, because of the frequent problems they and their customers face from Grace Place and Skadarlija.

    It should be noted that while many of the members of the West Parkdale Neighbours Group are business owners, most are residents of the area. Many residents have had displeasing experiences while walking past these two establishments. Some are afraid to walk past them at certain times of the day.

    Mr Sri stated” “I’m here about eight years, I not have any problems, now after this guy Poor John move in, he don’t like my customer.” Mr Sri neglected to mention that for the first five of those years the establishment was a restaurant, “Skadarlija Gourmet European Cuisine.”

    When Mr Sri’s bar, the notorious Bel Cafe across the street at 1521 Queen St W., was closed three years ago for numerous drug, prostitution, and other criminal activities, he took over Skadarlija, kept the name, and moved in the Bel Cafe’s pool table and clientele. It was then that “this guy Poor John” and many other people began to complain.

    The Gleaner may wish to interview the business owners surrounding Grace Place, to hear the accounts of fighting, window breaking, urination, and vomiting outside of that establishment. The stories will be the same as those of the owners surrounding Skadarlija, with only the throat slitting at Grace Place added for colour.

    If the Gleaner were to do procure the police reports on these two establishments through Freedom of Information requests, and show them to Mr Sri, Mr Zhang, Mr Hanuman, and Mr Perks, these four gentleman would have some explaining to do.

    Thank you.

    Clair Culliford