1990s, 2000s, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Soul

Then & Now: Roxy Blu

September 15, 2014
Dance crew DFC at a Movement party.

Photo of DFC dance crew at Movement by Rob Ben (courtesy of John Kong).


Article originally published September 21, 2011 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com). This piece marked the debut of Then & Now, originally envisioned as a series of brief articles. Given that Then & Now articles grew in length and number of participants, Roxy Blu will be revisited in far more detail for the T&N book.

Introducing Then & Now, a new feature by Denise Benson where she takes a look at what’s become of Toronto’s legendary, but now defunct, dance clubs. In this inaugural edition, she revisits the much-missed Roxy Blu in advance of Friday’s reunion party at Revival.


Club: Roxy Blu

Location: 12 Brant

Years in operation: 1998-2005

Why it was important: From the spring of 1998—when owner Amar Singh opened Roxy Blu in a King West area not then known for clubs—this 10,000 square-foot venue of four rooms (Roxy upstairs, Foundation a.k.a. Surface downstairs) grew to become one of Toronto’s most beloved venues for house, dancefloor jazz, downtempo, hip-hop and emerging/underground electronic and dance music. Roxy’s size, friendly staff, comfortable décor and wooden dancefloors attracted innovative DJs and promoters who, in turn, drew audiences equally passionate about music and dancing. Parties and promoters—including Movement, Phatblackpussycat, Solid Garage, milk. and Hot Stepper’s Garage 416 and Bump N’ Hustle—flourished at Roxy, collectively creating a whole much larger than its parts.

“Roxy was important in general because it permitted us to realize this city’s potential for an eclectic mix of music,” says Hot Stepper’s Carlos Mondesir. “It’s remembered very fondly by house people, but it was far more than that. The huge successes of Movement and Garage 416 in particular—but, of course, everyone else like 52 Inc., Bump N’ Hustle events, Doin’ It hip -hop events, milk., RNB, Phatblack, Solid Garage and others—created a critical mass on Friday nights that gave us the security to book what would otherwise be extremely risky. I wouldn’t book many of the people we did back then today and be able to sleep at night. This also raised the bar for many other promoters to compete and beat the bushes for interesting acts that added to the consistency.”

Who played there: One of the things that made Roxy so special was the fact that local talents were at its core. Most of Toronto’s deep, funky and soulful house DJs were found in its booths many times over, including Nick Holder, Joe Rizla, Blueprint, Dirty Dale, the United Soul crew, Peter & Tyrone, Mike Tull, Paul E. Lopes, Peter Bosco, Alvaro G, Kevin Jazzy J, Jason Barham, Gene King, Ray Prasad, Felix & Gani and dozens more. The men of Movement—Jason Palma, John Kong, Nav, Aki and A Man Called Warwick—became internationally known and all went on to launch other successful projects. This just scratches the surface.

Some of today’s top international club draws played Roxy early in their careers, including Germany’s Kruder & Dorfmeister, who DJed their first Toronto gig at a jam-packed Alieninflux event here. Other Toronto debuts at Roxy included Joe Claussell, Dennis Ferrer, ?uestlove, Danny Krivit and François K, while artists as diverse as J Dilla, Gilles Peterson, King Britt, Keb Darge, Richie Hawtin and Ninja Tune’s DJ Food were also featured.

“It got to the point that if major DJs anywhere weren’t selected to play at Roxy Blu in Toronto, they’d definitely feel that something was wrong,” says Mondesir. “The ones who did get booked felt a lot more nervous than usual ’cause the crowd was so schooled.”

Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse at 12 Brant St.

Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse at 12 Brant St.

What happened to it: Roxy Blu’s ownership changed in 2003, losing promoters including Hot Stepper in the process. House promoters including Junior Palmer (Phatblackpussykat) and Pat Boogie (Boogie Inc.) continued to bring their vibe, but the Movement crew decamped in early 2005. Roxy closed its doors in July 2005, ending with a full-space house party starring an all-local lineup. The building initially became the upscale 8 Restolounge (upstairs) and 8 Below; today it houses the Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse (pictured), complete with piano bar.

Garage 416, Bump N’ Hustle, Movement and milk. are joining forces to present a Roxy Blu reunion party featuring DJs Jason Palma, Nav, John Kong, Blueprint, Moreno, Paul E. Lopes, Mike Tull and Felix & Gani. Friday (Sept. 23) at Revival, 783 College. $20.

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  • Reply John Pal October 23, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Great article!
    Toronto was (and is again) my refuge, my home away from home while living in my hometown of Buffalo. I came to Roxy Blu one weeknight evening to hear Kevin Yost in ’99 or 2000, the first time I attended a party of strictly house music… it was literally life changing and set a pretty high standard for my expectations! The vibe, the sheer joy, the dancers… it was rivaled my few other dance floors! I was so sad to find out it closed when I returned to buffalo in 2008.
    Thanks again! Much love!!

  • Reply E January 9, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    So many great times there and so many firsts. The K and D night was beyond epic. I thought I was an incredible dancer (I was/am) but the room was full of some of the most eclectic, crazy, all out, nutso, inventive dancers I’ve ever seen and that was perfect for the crazy mashup K and D were playing. I remember them somehow smashing from opera (I swear) to country with beats in minutes. It was nuts.

  • Reply Denise Benson December 12, 2014 at 12:35 am

    All comments in the string below have been republished from their original appearance on The Grid website. We’re including these readers’ comments as they add to the Then & Now stories. We look forward to reading new comments here as well.

    Ann Marie
    Ahh..this article brings back soo many memories.
    This was the only club where I saw literal “Love” ….everyone from all walks of life all dancing to one grove. A club where when you smiled people would smile back …(never any screw face)…if you bumped into someone they would gently guide you to one side and say “no problem”….and the drums!!…ohh…and that night the battle between Jason Palma and Master T’s DJ..how Jason Palma flexed his muscles!:)
    Beautiful…this club was symbolic of Toronto and all the love Toronto has running through its veins.
    Thanks for this! Just put a happy light in my day !!!
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    9:03 am on September 12, 2013

    I too choked up to comment…waaaay too many memories.
    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
    9:30 pm on June 1, 2013

    Short article for such a class act! Roxy Blu was the place to be for the hot tunes.
    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
    11:42 pm on April 30, 2012

    Denise Benson
    Hi Maria,
    Just caught your post. Yes, the Roxy article is shorter than others in the Then & Now series simply because it was the first one. Originally, these pieces were meant to be fairly short in length, but reader interest led to longer articles.
    I’ll definitely expand on the story of Roxy Blu when re-writing its chapter for the Then & Now related book I’m at work on. Roxy is also one of my favourite Toronto clubs of all time!
    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    2:00 pm on February 4, 2013

    Thanks for this!!
    I was 21-22 when I started to go to Roxy Blu and this place was amazing.
    While most of my friends were partying in clubland I was having the time of my life here.
    I’m now 29 and I still talk about this place as if it still existed.
    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0
    2:40 pm on November 30, 2011

    INCREEEASSE… the #goodoldays! I don’t think most youngins know how much influence the “Roxy Days” had on Toronto. King St. W. was a ghost town up until…that stretch till around 2003 or 2004 was a real game changer – things have never been the same…
    Love the OG line-up at the Roxy Blu Reuinion Party – just might have to get a sitter and come join the boogie down! Word.
    Thanks for posting the article Denise. Used to tune in to your shows back in University! ha… :)
    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    5:04 pm on September 21, 2011

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