Ottawa councillor, city staff use zoning rules to put pressure on problematic bars

Mingle Room lounge, which operated as a nightclub while being zoned as a restaurant, shuttered
Mingle Room
Photo by Kieran Delamont / Metro

The Mingle Room, the nightclub on Rideau Street where a 25-year-old man was killed in June, is shutting down after the city and the property owner determined that it was skirting zoning rules by defining itself as a restaurant but acting like a nightclub.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury, along with bylaw officers and the property owner, had been working for some time to see a change at the Rideau Street lounge.

“We’ve been working on this property for about six months,” Fleury said. “There was a series of incidents that came to our attention, some of which were gang-related, noise on the weekends, and even street racing along Rideau Street.”

It is, however, a scenario that is becoming more common: restaurants that nominally serve food, while their true purpose is to act as a lounge or nightclub after 9 p.m.

“We start getting complaints around commercial spaces that only have limited uses,” Fleury said. “When they morph into simply a Friday-, Saturday-, Sunday-night-only use,” they become a problem.

In Toronto, the issue came up recently as some bar owners said restrictive zoning that discourages nightclubs forced their hand.

This is something that the City of Ottawa, in conjunction with the Ottawa Music Industry Council, is looking to tackle as well via its music venue review.

“It’s something we need to have a broader conversation on,” Fleury said. Spaces for electronic music are important, but are often difficult to zone. This encourages some operators to occasionally move to precarious spaces, as happened with Ghost Ship, the club that burned down in Oakland.

Fleury says that finding a balance, in which nightclubs can exist comfortably within commercial districts, is in flux as the nature of nightclubs shift. “I’m not sure that nightclubs will disappear,” he added. “There’s ways now that your traditional nightclub has changed.”

This article originally appeared in Metro News.