To save Castro’s Lounge, co-owner says he’ll give up his share of the bar

An owner of popular Beach tavern Castro’s Lounge — a venue praised by local musicians for giving them a place to play and earn a living — says he’s relinquishing his share to prevent its closure.

Anthony Greene, who has co-owned the popular Queen Street East nightspot for 10 years, says the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario is forcing him to sell his portion to his partner after a social-media incident earned Greene a lifetime ban from the premises. Because Greene admittedly breached the conditions, visiting his venue twice since the imposition of the ban, the AGCO notified Greene it intends to revoke Castro’s liquor licence.

The Licence Appeal Tribunal, an adjudicative tribunal independent of the AGCO, has set a 9:30 a.m. hearing scheduled for Tuesday through Friday this week at 15 Grosvenor St. in Toronto.

To save the venue, Greene said Monday he has reached an agreement to sell his share of the business to his associate Stephen Reid and is transferring the liquor licence to Reid’s name. Greene is hopeful this action will lead to the hearing being cancelled.

Greene’s troubles began on June 13, 2018, when, by his own admission, he sent a private Facebook message to a liquor inspector, comparing that inspector to Aunt Lydia, a brutal disciplinarian from Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” He was arrested six days later, held overnight and charged with intimidation. The charge was withdrawn two months later, but the punishment wasn’t over: on Nov. 29, 2018, the AGCO banned Greene from the bar’s premises — for life.

“The AGCO said I’m a danger to the public and their liquor inspectors,” Greene told the Star.

AGCO spokesperson Raymond Kahnert told the Star in an email that, “The AGCO Registrar has reason to believe that the licence holder has contravened the Liquor Licence Act (LLA) and the Regulations, or a condition of the licence, and has issued a Notice of Proposal (NOP) to revoke the licence.”

Since the ban was imposed, Castro’s Lounge has remained open and Greene says staff have been running it without his supervision. However, he admitted entering Castro’s twice since the Nov. 29 ban: once to drop off tax information to his accountant and the second time to help a server adjust a loudspeaker.

Greene posted on Facebook earlier this month, stating that the bar was in jeopardy. “Yes, I did a dumb thing. In the heat of the moment and against my better judgment, I sent the wrong message to a liquor inspector … Why did I do it? At the time, it seemed to make sense. In hindsight, I understand that it wasn’t a smart decision on my part, and I apologise (sic) …

“Still, it appears that the AGCO is seeking to take away our liquor license (sic) and put an end to Castro’s Lounge.”

In response, more than 3,100 supporters have signed an online “Save Castro’s” petition, a rare venue for live music in the neighbourhood.

Greene is well known locally as a supporter of live music, hiring Toronto musicians to entertain Castro’s patrons. Among those who played regularly at the lounge were the Bidiniband, Jerry Leger and Danny Marks; its closure would mean another hit for local performers in a city where live venues are disappearing.

Don Kerr, a Ron Sexsmith producer and member of the Bidiniband and Rheostatics, mentioned the importance of Castro’s to the musical community in his petition entry, declaring, “I love Castro’s Lounge. It allows hundreds of musicians to feed their families every month.”

Former Prairie Oyster drummer Michelle Josef echoed Kerr’s sentiment, saying, “Castros (sic) is a rare gem of a place. Not only a community hub but a vital place of employment for many working musicians.”

Supporters who signed the petition include Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown.

“Castro’s is a Beaches institution and core of the community that’s been around as long as I have lived here; supports live music; and is indeed a beloved gathering place for everyone who lives here. It would be a travesty & a local tragedy were it to be closed down,” the NDP member wrote.

In the meantime Greene, facing an uncertain future with a family of three young children to support, has deleted his former post and replaced it with a new Facebook entry that reads, in part:

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“The proceedings to revoke Castro’s liquor licence are not because of Anthony’s message to an AGCO inspector. In fact, we were allowed to keep our licence after Anthony sent the message, but with conditions. One of those conditions was that Anthony not enter the bar.

“Those conditions were subsequently breached. That is why the AGCO sought to revoke our liquor licence … Please do not make comments disparaging the AGCO or its employees — they are not helpful and will not be tolerated.”

TORONTO STAR