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Help Bar Orwell start our new chapter!

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The rumours are true. Bar Orwell has permanently closed its 1595 Dundas Street West location due to constructive eviction as of Thursday, April 11, 2024. Our property manager maliciously cut off our power for a second time, forcing us to make this tough decision. Last week, at the time of writing, we informed event organizers of the booked dates of the situation. We asked for discretion in releasing this information, per legal counsel, so we could safely retrieve our possessions without fear of being locked out.

Now, with stacked apartments and a storage unit, we’re ready to share our story and start our fight back!

What is a constructive eviction?

Constructive evictions occur when a landlord does not physically or legally evict a tenant but takes actions that interfere with the tenant's use and enjoyment of the premises significantly enough to constitute “eviction in fact.”

The Short of It.

It’s a tale as old as Toronto.

One of a landlord’s greed and a seeming prerogative to act with impunity to the law.

It has long been common knowledge among our close community that Bar Orwell has suffered an increasingly tenuous and hostile relationship with our “property manager” – our landlord’s son. This is despite us having made no misrepresentations of our intent to run a music venue in the space and their full informed consent to this: We had been booking shows for months prior to our official purchase of the business and assumption of the lease. Earnestly we made concessions to resolve growing contention, to our own detriment, such as our strictly enforced 11 pm performance curfew and later 100dB room limit. However one is only as good as their word, and repeatedly we’ve discovered his word wasn’t worth much. We kept being squeezed.

In January, an in-term rent increase, not provided for in our lease agreement, was demanded. In an attempt to “keep the peace”, though we’ve never known it: We agreed, in good faith, to renegotiate the lease to accept a substantial rent increase. We had hoped to abate the existing contention between our parties, to ensure the longevity of Bar Orwell and to relieve us of the omnipresent mental anguish of uncertainty preventing us from fully investing in its development. However, despite having accepted the proposed rent increase, in full, without argument and having retained a lawyer to draft this new agreement at our own cost, the very next day after the “negotiation” even more money was demanded. At this point, realizing it would never be enough to buy us our freedom, we choose to uphold and attempt to enforce the original lease.

Subsequently, our relationship rapidly deteriorated even further.

What started poorly, with willful breaches of contract and unreasonable, menacing demands, devolved into attempted extortion/coercion, physical acts against our business, and wanton abandonment of our legal rights as tenants.

On February 1st, our landlord’s son unambiguously established his intent to unlawfully evict us for refusing the rent increase and made the unveiled threat to make running our business “much harder” in the meantime. Unfortunately, he succeeded in that.

On Thursday, April 11, 2024, during soundcheck, the landlord’s son cut power to our unit for a second time.

With this event and great indignation, we had to make the devastating decision to indefinitely postpone all scheduled events and cease operations at this location. We simply could not, with any certain security, provide the safe and welcoming space we had worked so hard to create.

Our only solace is that we have substantial physical evidence of his persistent malfeasance. We will be seeking justice for ourselves and the community we serve through legal action.

What is Bar Orwell?

We’ve used a lot of unofficial taglines over the past two years to try and describe what we’re doing; some of our favourites:

“A living room with a liquor license”

“A first to play venue.”

“Just trying to keep live music alive.”

“A place for all the freaks and weirdos.”

Which is to say, we were/are a sanctioned, fully-licensed DIY venue trying to carry the torch.

Over the last two years, we, Bronwen Ballantyne Heilig and Jesse Billings, have poured our blood, sweat, tears, hopes, dreams, time, meagre financial resources – everything a punk has to give – into creating Bar Orwell, a home for DIY music and alternative arts in the City of Toronto. Both of us came up in the DIY punk music scene which operates with the central tenets of community and mutual aid, and had spaces like ours, in which we could express and discover ourselves.

These types of spaces are critically important to the sustainability of our communities and the health of our city while simultaneously being under constant attack in an increasingly homogeneous, corporate environment. While Toronto seems at the surface to have a thriving culture, it lacks the smaller venues that produce the premier acts selling out stadiums. Under 100 cap rooms are where stars cut their teeth. Most of your favourite bands likely started playing in their friends’ basements and dive bars. Ours did. But we’ve both seen the rapid disappearance of house venues and bars willing to ad hoc host bands over the last decade. The situation has become especially dire in the last few years with the nearly back to back decimating events of the 2017 Ghost Ship Fire Raids and COVID-19 Pandemic. When we got the opportunity to open our own space we were damn excited! We wanted to be at the bottom of the food chain, to support the “next big thing” before they were big, before anybody knew they would be. We could be part of the recovery, the renaissance.

Our mission in creating Bar Orwell was to create a space to bolster community among disparate scenes, welcome new artists into that community, and foster the DIY-spirit that inspires people to become community organizers/facilitators themselves – another thing this city desperately needs. Together we’re stronger, we get further.

Setting out, our guiding principles were:

  • Artistic merit is one thing, but most importantly, we promote and support earnest and good people because they are the ones who actually sustain the scene.
  • We aren’t cultural curators or arbitrators. We don’t need to understand what you’re doing to appreciate (or at least respect it).
  • Everybody deserves an opportunity to fail (or succeed). If you’re willing to organize it, we’re willing to host it.

Like any new business, we managed to just pay the bills for a long time, but all the risks we had taken betting on art and community, had finally paid off – we had reached the point of long term financial sustainability.

Why Do We Need Your Money?

With the unexpected closure at this location we have been caught with the unplanned costs associated with closing our current operations and transitioning into a new space – without incoming revenue with which to cover them.

Although we hope to recover costs through legal action, we need immediate assistance.

Your contributions today will be used to pay final bills, interim maintenance costs (ex. Storage unit rental) of the business, help us pursue legal action, and secure and furnish a new location. This is not the end of Bar Orwell, it’s a new chapter: Creative freedom and expression will live on!

Non-Monetary Ways to Help Out

If you can’t help financially at this time we would also appreciate donations/commitment of:

  • Media/press coverage;
  • Professional skills;
  • Trade skills;
  • Rides/driving services:
  • Bar/Restaurant Equipment;
  • Renovation materials;
  • Partnerships and sponsorships for fundraising events; and
  • Leads or offers on new spaces.

Which will help us reestablish at a new location.
Donate

Donations 

  • Anthony Boire
    • $1,136 
    • 25 d
  • Anonymous
    • $50 
    • 25 d
  • Lowenstein Maya
    • $25 
    • 1 mo
  • Jeremy Cohen
    • $50 
    • 1 mo
  • Patrick Mullen
    • $20 
    • 1 mo
Donate

Organizer

Bronwen Heilig
Organizer
Toronto, ON

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