Photo of David Morales and Tony Assoon in the Zone DJ booth courtesy of Albert Assoon.
Article originally published October 5, 2011 by The Grid online. It was second in the series. Given that Then & Now articles later grew in length and number of participants, the Twilight Zone will be revisited in more detail for the T&N book.
In this instalment of Then & Now, Denise Benson looks back at the legacy of trailblazing ‘80s nightclub The Twilight Zone, which brought diverse crowds and sounds to The Entertainment District long before such a designation even existed.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Twilight Zone, 185 Richmond St. W.
Years in operation: 1980-1989
Why it was important: Long before the Entertainment District was awash in condos, clubs and restaurants—back when the area was still largely non-residential and known as the Garment District—four brothers and two close friends opened a venue that was to forever alter this city’s danceclub nightscape. In January of 1980, David, Albert, Tony and Michael Assoon—along with Luis Collaco and Bromely Vassell, co-owners until 1983—took Toronto to the Twilight Zone, a magical late-night place where the mix of people was just as eclectic as the music itself. The Twilight Zone embraced the collage of sounds that came to define the 1980s, as local and international DJs played disco, funk, electro, early hip-hop, new wave, freestyle, house and techno over the years, and on an infamously state-of-the-art sound system designed by New York’s Richard Long (pictured at left below with his creation alongside associate Roger Goodman). The Zone was the place to be, with large, diverse crowds dancing until morning week after week.
“Young budding Queen Street designers, fashionistas, punk rockers, Chelseas, goths, gays, straights, blacks and whites all brushed shoulders,” recalls Albert Assoon. “At the Twilight Zone, you had Dean and Dan [of Dsquared], Kenneth Cole, Suzanne Boyd, Charmaine Gooden, Michael Griffiths, the Soho designers, and other local artists who were regulars. Many greats met up and fully expressed themselves with their look and attitudes!”
Who played there: At its core, the Twilight Zone was about the adventurous music and personalities of its resident DJs, including Siobhan O’Flynn (who showcased alternative rock, UK pop, disco and more at her Pariah Wednesdays) and Friday-night mainstay Don Cochrane (who played new wave and other dancefloor-friendly sounds then bubbling in the UK). DJs Tony and Albert Assoon, lovers of underground disco, funk, freestyle and the like, helmed Saturday nights. Above all, The Zone is remembered fondly as Toronto’s first home of garage and house, especially as the music’s bricklayers became imported guests.
“Twilight Zone started off the tradition of bringing international DJs on Saturdays, starting out with DJ Kenny Carpenter, David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, Dave Madness Del Du Valle—all from NYC—and Jay Armstrong from Ministry in the UK,” says Albert Assoon. “All the DJs offered a different sound and melted the crowd. Derrick May and Alton Miller from Detroit used to come to Toronto to party at the Zone and, one Saturday in 1985, asked if they could play as they’d brought their productions.”
Further proving the Assoons had their collective fingers on the pulse of a musical movement, The Zone featured live performances by artists as diverse and influential as D Train, Divine, Eartha Kitt, Joycelyn Brown, The Spoons, Jermaine Stewart and Anne Clark.
“One of the highlights at The Zone was when we had the Beastie Boys, who went on a rampage and graffitied the club,” Albert recalls. “We had just sanded the area and it wasn’t painted so we decided to leave it as part of the decor.”
What happened to it: The Twilight Zone closed in the fall of 1989 as the lease expired and the building’s owner sold the property. Today, it is a parking lot.
“We would have bought the building,” says Albert, “however, despite our successes the banks would never finance us with anything except the one time my father put up his house for us to buy The Twilight Zone’s sound system, which was approximately $100,000 U.S. We had to sign a waiver where our unborn children would have to pay if we defaulted. That loan was paid on time and in full, but they would not agree with our vision.”
The Assoons—also the original visionaries who, in 1984, opened a club space at 132 Queens Quay E. called Fresh that was eventually ousted to make way for RPM (and later The Guvernment)—went on to open Gotham City Bar and Grill at 81 Bloor St. E. in 1990 and, later, dance-music haven The Living Room at 330 Adelaide St. W.
The legacy: The Twilight Zone is revered and remembered to this day and there are annual reunions as a result. This Saturday (Oct. 8), the Assoon brothers and United Soul unite to present The Twilight Zone Tribute Party 2011 at Revival (783 College). On deck is house-music legend Robert Owens—who will both DJ and perform his classics like “Tears,” “I’ll Be Your Friend” and “Bring Down The Walls”—alongside DJs Albert Assoon, Dave Campbell, Mitch Winthrop and Groove Institute. David and Michael Assoon will host. Get in the mood by downloading this recent Albert Assoon promo mix.
Loved the the Twilight Zone , dancing till the sun came up and then going for breakfast.
Denise, I know it’s a long shot, but there was a song by the Upsetters you used to spin on your college radio show (late 80’s) that I just have not been able to find; you absolutely adored this song. I’ve listened to countless hours of YouTube videos, but to no avail. I know, I know; but I was hoping to jag something loose xoxo
From Pariah on Wednesdays with Joey and Adam Rayfield to Saturdays with Dj Siobhan…can still remember Bauhaus to Susie and the Banshees ….. loved it all. Onto the Wave of Talk Talk and Kate Bush on to Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles coming to play at Zone, Memories of tunes and people who some are lifelong friends all brought together for the music and atmosphere of love and friendship. We all at one time had the walk of shame coming out and the sun was shining on us. Fun, memories an atosphere which was never duplicated, and trust we tried to …. ahead of its time, never forgotten. Zone forever
Anyone remember the night they brought (pre-fame) Madonna???
Missed that one! But have many memories including doing a shoot there with Mario Testino during the day. The weekend energy was intense and there has never been a better sound experience since. All you needed was a good joint, prolific then Sensimilla preferably, to trip on the mega bass and super chilled vibe! I did anyhow… missssssssssssssssssssssss it!
was on acid ….lol
Man, I remember this place from back in the day. What an awesome club. Crazy to think of what used to go on there, and now it is a parking lot! Times have changed!
The Twilight Zone was a forerunner just the most amazing club. Mixing the latest music from London , New York, west coast- disco – hip hop, funk. In the chill out areas you hear cool movie tracks from Diva and Betty Blue. Aspiring Designer, artists , fashionistas mixed with a cool Toronto club crowd. There was a lot of young European designers and photographers floating around Spading in the 80′s that were TZ regulars. I was one of them from London. Great Music. great crowd. Great memories.
My God! The Zone was home for me and my boys from 1986 till the doors closed. 4 young 16/17 year olds heading downtown from the ‘burbs of Pickering..checking out Now and eye magazine, trying to find a club. Find this hole in the wall club on Richmond St. in the garment district. Walk through the front doors..up the stairway to heaven, and our lives changed in that moment. The dancefloor, the music, the sound, and the people! Dear Lord, the people! Being a suburban teen from Pickering, i had little to no knowledge about gay people..but everyone was cool..enjoying the live of house music. Sweating till our clothes were drenched..exhausted, drained, but excited to go back the next Saturday night.we crawled out of there with the sun coming up. We had just come “home”! We told all our friends about this INSANE club downtown. We all travelled to the Zone every Saturday night/special event that was going on. The Zone is where we all started drinking. My God, i miss that place! We all shed a tear when it was shut downtown. LONG LIVE THE ZONE!!
All comments in the string below have been republished from their original appearance on The Grid website. We’re including the readers’ comments as they add to these Then & Now stories. We look forward to reading new comments here as well.
IT just keeps me smiling thinking of all the good times, music every saturday was most! Joan-Patricia Parris 10:25 pm on April 1, 2014
Brian Joseph Johns
We have to organize a reunion party for all of us clubbers. We have to keep alive the love of dance. I remember going to the club on the all ages night (Saturday) and dancing through until 7am every weekend for three years in a row, We have to organize something like that. 5:27 am on May 28, 2013
..one night we were partying at the Zone, we got hungry so we went across the street to the only place that was open late at night. We walked in, sat down, looked at the menu and the pizza’s were almost $20..it was unheard of in the 80′s for a pizza to be priced so exuberantly. Then the topless waitress came out and seemingly looked like a live sex show began on stage..it was the sex musical called ‘Let My People Come’ at the Basin Street Cabaret 180 Queen W. We got scared, ran out the restaurant and went back to the Twilight Zone where we hung out with similar looking people but not confined to a stage.. Fantastic memories. Thanks Assoons and Dave Delvalle RIP Aki cosmos records 1:49 pm on January 3, 2013
Walking into the Twilight Zone was like walking into a comfortable house party where everyone was there and unified for the music. The smiles, the spirit and energy of the room was simply ‘warm and fuzzy’ every time! 7:22 pm on March 11, 2012
I was too young for the Twilight Zone but found this article after searching for anything on the web about Club Focus. After sharing Sheila Heti’s Mad Hatter article with a friend she suggested The Grid do an article about our generation’s memories of Club Focus. I think it’s a great idea so putting it out there on her behalf. 8:49 am on January 24, 2012
tz was a big apart of my youth too, before downstairs opened, with the unisex bathroom, the fire escape as a cool down area, and the multiple madonna clones…;) i’d enjoy hearing about any future gatherings, long live the twilight zone!! 11:23 am on November 27, 2011
Not enough can be said about DJ Siobhan’s Wed nights there – “Pariah” continued the after-hours scene begun at Voodoo, and introduced neo and vintage psychedelia into the mix – a forward looking and very brave move, taking the whole scene one step further into eclectic territory. Good times! 2:31 pm on November 16, 2011
thanks Jason! I played way more than alt rock so thanks for throwing that in – also First wave Goth, the whole Manchester scene, old punk, disco, Uk pop – best of the NME…. tons of stuff 8:34 am on January 14, 2012
great article! before my time, but never stop hearing how fun it was. i just missed the era of FOCUS at city hall too when i got into house. started w/ Kevin Williams at Go-Go’s on richmond, then Matt C at RPM all ages sunday, then warehouse parties. Toronto is the best city for house music- past & present! 10:55 pm on October 18, 2011
Great tribute, remembering a club,which was not just a club, it was The Zone, where the patrons were like family and the vibe was memorable, at a time when musical sounds were experimenting and a post disco/club music era that was not forgotten, dancing until the sun rise and holding hands with total strangers…. rejoicing & uniting Anyone who was there can relate to what I’ve just written, May the legacy of underground club/house music live on, and may The Zone never be forgotten for helping a generation of us find freedom on the dance floor… Kori (d urban.ritualist) 8:36 pm on October 12, 2011
Excellent article; a fitting tribute to a legendary club that people need to know about and celebrate. I’ve been working on a documentary that profiles the history of the Zone and many other underground T.O. landmarks. Interviews include the Assoon brothers, Dave Campbell, Mitch Winthrop and many others. http://sketchedoutmovie.com 6:28 pm on October 5, 2011
A movie about the comfort zone? Interesting! 8:44 pm on October 7, 2011
Very nice read. Lest we forget that there were other people who worked there that helped make ‘The Zone’ what it was and should never be forgotten. I speak for them all. 4:21 pm on October 9, 2011
What happened to the doc? I checked around the Web and nothing. 9:19 pm on November 28, 2014