Parties at Shawn Riker’s club often last until 6 AM—but he can’t legally sell booze for those last four hours. Instead, Riker, who runs the Toronto after hours bar Bunker, relies on water, Red Bull, and Gatorade sales to earn revenue.
Recently he put up a sign in his bathroom saying “before you fill your water bottle please think about supporting this venue and its staff.” Bunker charges $4.50 for a 600-millilitre bottle of water.A patron posted the note on Instagram and it was subsequently written up by blogTO,
which Riker, 53, claims has resulted in “threatening emails” and comments from people claiming Bunker’s water is overpriced and that partiers need water to stay safe. Bars in Ontario are legally obligated to provide free water to patrons and Riker says he does that, but he feels some of his customers take advantage of that. And on nights he doesn’t charge cover (which usually goes to the event promoter, not the bar), he sometimes winds up not making much money—sometimes around $500.
“There’s people that just demand the bartenders give them free water all day long,” Riker, who also owns Fly 2.0 nightclub above Bunker, told VICE. He says his monthly rent for both venues is $25,000. He noted that the free cups the water comes in also creates a bigger mess for bartenders.
“It gets to a point where it’s excessive, that’s the problem. There’s times upstairs it’s free before 11:30 PM, nobody wants to put their coat in coat check, they want to sit there and use a table on your wifi, and ask for cups of water.”
Riker said patrons sometimes fill water bottles in the bathrooms.
“I see people picking up water bottles off the floor.”
While Riker says he feels bad for customers who “don’t have any money” he also noted that when he was younger “I didn’t go out if I couldn’t afford it.”
“How do you go out on a Saturday night and plan to spend zero money?”
Holden Levack, 28, is the patron who posted Bunker’s water sign after attending an event there a couple weeks ago. He said he bought an $8 beer there. But he wouldn’t pay for water.
“I don’t think of water as something you should ever have to pay for,” he told VICE. He also said venue operators should encourage people to stay hydrated, particularly in the rave scene.
Drinking water while partying on drugs like MDMA is recommended in order to prevent dehydration and overheating.
“Putting a median between people and something they should be drinking to hydrate themselves properly… that’s dangerous,” said Levack, but he said his Instagram post, which was captioned “hydration shaming” was mostly tongue-in-cheek.
Riker said his sign is meant to be “a nice friendly reminder: hey people, we got bills to pay.”
He’s not trying to stop anyone from drinking free water, though.
“If I wanted that, I would just make the water hot.”