Waterloo nightlife in the spotlight

Students are increasingly finding that they're waiting in line longer at bars and clubs. (Photo by Heather Davidson)
Students are increasingly finding that they’re waiting in line longer at bars and clubs. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

It’s 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night; do you know where your friends are?  There’s a good chance that they are waiting in line.

In the last five years the student population within the city of Waterloo has grown tremendously. While this provides clear economic benefits to universities and local businesses, it has also greatly impacted another industry — the bar, club and night social scene.

The past year alone has seen five local venues — Philthy McNasty’s, Cabin, Firehall, Night School and McMullan’s — close their doors to the public, creating fewer options for students on their night out.

And fewer options means longer lines and fuller clubs.

“It’s pretty ridiculous,” said Katie Wong, a third-year student at Wilfrid Laurier University. “We have to get to a club before a certain time or else we’re stuck waiting in line for over an hour.”

“It almost makes it not even worth it.”

Wong admitted to waiting for an hour and a half for a bar during O-Week and she’s not alone.  Depending on the time of year, nightclub or venue lines can start forming as early as 9:30 p.m. and last until well after midnight.

The likely cause of this is the strain of a growing student population on existing venues.

Ray Darling, registrar at the University of Waterloo, noted that UW has seen about 500 to 1,000 new students each year for the last five years.

“It’s been about 1.5 per cent a year since 2010, so about three or four per cent [in total],” he said.

Wilfrid Laurier University has also experienced growth, with a 22.1 per cent population increase since 2008.

“There’s sometimes negative sides of growth,” Darling said. “If there are more students here there are more student issues.”

“Those are some of the areas when you have growth in a location that is not ready to take it on.”

Between both UW and WLU, more than 45,000 students occupy the area.

Local business owners believe that the city needs to bring in more venues to feed the nightlife demand.

“Having more bars in the uptown area is a better thing,” said Ryan Good, owner of Chainsaw, a local bar in Uptown Waterloo. “We’re on the outer limits of the university circle so in order to get people into the core we need a vibrant entertainment district.”

Chainsaw, which regularly sees lineups outside, has long been a student hot spot. Good explained that his bar only generates a lineup because of strict capacity regulations, which apparently is quite low.

“Some bars even do a fake lineup which is to attract business,” he said. “We don’t do that, we wait until we reach that [capacity] limit.”

Chuck McMullan, owner of McMullan’s pub at 56 King St., had to close down his venue in August for renovations and has yet to re-open due to insurance complications.

He is extremely frustrated, as he has missed out on vital student business this year.

“We’re trying our best to get the place opened,” he said.

But in terms of city bylaw enforcement, they feel that students are actually a vital part in keeping the uptown core thriving.

“We see students as an asset to our community,” said Jim Barry, the director of municipal enforcement. Barry thinks that it is the businesses’ responsibility to adapt to deal with excessive wait times outside bars and clubs.

“They need to change to fit the needs to the students,” he said.

Pearl Nightclub, formerly known as Revolution, is one entertainment venue that has addressed problems with lines. Typically bringing in DJs and live performances, Pearl nightclub organizes ticketed events. Their building accommodates over 1,000 people.

“I think we’re really efficient in how we move lines and pride ourselves in minimizing the wait time for people to come in and get ID’ed,” said Sue Stuart, one of the general managers and owners at Pearl. “I think we’ve got that down to a fine science.”

As for the rest of the student population, the ones waiting hours in line, Good shared his optimism that the city should be expecting more businesses in the entertainment industry.

Maxwell’s Music House is opening a concert venue just along University Ave. and it has been speculated that Morty’s Pub is also opening another bar location in the old Forwell’s plaza.

“It’s a tough business,” Good said. “[But] I think that there are other bars that will opening around the area.”

We just have to wait a little longer.

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