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1990s, 2000s, 2010s, Dance Music, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, Hip-Hop, House, Live Music, Pop, Rock, Techno, Toronto Rave

Then & Now: The Guvernment complex

March 7, 2015

All photos in the gallery by Tobias Wang of Visualbass Photography.

After almost two decades of hosting the world’s biggest DJs, alongside some of Toronto’s finest, Canada’s largest nightclub recently closed doors to make way for condo development on the waterfront. With the participation of some of The Guv’s key players, Then & Now delves deep to tell the exhaustive story of a club that mirrors – and contributed greatly to – electronic music’s evolution. Rave on.

By: DENISE BENSON

Club: The Guvernment complex, 132 Queens Quay East

Years in operation: 1996 – 2015

History: Charles Khabouth has been mentioned throughout the Then & Now series as his influence in Toronto nightlife is widely felt. Khabouth’s earliest nightclubs, Club Z on St. Joseph and Stilife on Richmond, were pioneering in very different ways. Early in 1996, he began work on a wildly ambitious project, one so successful that it would both cement Toronto’s reputation as an international clubbing destination, and anchor Khabouth’s ever-expanding business empire. But things could have turned out very differently.

In the mid ‘90s, the stretch of our waterfront near Queens Quay and Jarvis was still fairly isolated and industrial. A stone’s throw from Lake Shore Boulevard, it held factories, parking lots and stretches of open space. Condos did not dominate the landscape.

The 60,000 square foot space at 132 Queens Quay East had housed large clubs in its recent past. From 1984 to late 1985, it had been home to the Assoon brothers’ innovative Fresh Restaurant and Nightclub. For the next decade, it was the location of popular club RPM and its sister concert space, the Warehouse.

When Khabouth took over the building on January 1, 1996 he couldn’t have known that he had almost eight months of renovating ahead. But he did know that he had to compete with Toronto’s then-booming, highly concentrated Entertainment District.

“I thought, ‘How am I going to compete with 50 nightclubs side-by-side downtown?’ Khabouth tells me during an expansive interview. “Kids would go to the one area and bop around all night long. I realized I had to do a multi-room venue or I had no hope in hell. That’s why I created five venues under one roof, plus the Warehouse, which really was a warehouse.” Continue Reading…

1990s, 2000s, All-ages, Alternative, Electronic, Funk, Goth, Hip-Hop, House, Indie Rock, Industrial, Live Music, Metal, Punk, Rave, Rock, Singer-songwriter

Then & Now: The Big Bop, part 2

January 29, 2015
The Big Bop's wall of memories. Photo courtesy of Lucy Van Nie.

Poster wall of memories. Photo by Lucy Van Nie.

 

In the second half of the 1990s, the iconic purple building on the southeast corner of Queen and Bathurst underwent a transformation from dance club to all-ages live music hub. What now houses a modern furniture and décor store was once home to punk, metal, hip-hop, Darkrave, and a whole bunch of proud music misfits.

By: DENISE BENSON

Club: The Big Bop, 651 Queen W.

Years in operation: 1997 – 2010

History: Often, we must look back in order to move forward. That’s certainly the case with this story. When last we delved into the history of The Big Bop, it was during its period as a dance club owned by the Ballinger brothers.

Interviewees for that story were hazy, at best, about the closing of the Ballinger’s Bop. It was clear that the venue had suffered financial hardships from 1994, when it went into receivership, but concrete details about its eventual end – let alone its evolution as a club space – were scant.

As it turns out, the original Big Bop continued to operate until 1996 under the management of Peter Ballinger.

“Peter was the least seen and the least involved until the Ballingers bought Webster Hall, and the other three brothers – Lonnie, Steve and Doug – were in New York,” recalls Trevor Mais who, as DJ Tex, rocked crowds in the building through three different club incarnations.

Mais was an employee at the original Big Bop from 1989, working as busboy, bar back, lighting tech and, from 1993, DJ. While he also did lights at Go-Go and played at clubs including Boom Boom Room, The Phoenix, Joker, and Beat Junkie as DJ Tex, Mais had especially deep ties to Big Bop. He tells me that the club truly struggled from 1995. Various attempts at revival failed.

In spring of 1996, the building at 651 Queen West opened as Freedom: The Nightclub.

Continue Reading…

1990s, Breaks, Disco, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, Dub, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Live Music, Rave, Reggae, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: We’ave

December 8, 2014
Weave mural

We’ave wall mural. Photo by Merri Schwartz, courtesy of Dan Snaith.

 

Article originally published December 20, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

In the late 1990s, this quirky three-storey Dundas West venue provided a homebase for emergent female DJs and was a hotbed for techno, drum ‘n’ bass and all kinds of experimentation. It also helped launch the careers of Caribou, Peaches, and future Azari & III member Christian Newhook.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: We’ave, 330 Dundas St. W.

Years in operation: 1997–2000

History: There is a row of heritage properties along Dundas West, between McCaul and Beverley Streets and directly opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario, that tend to catch the eye. Built in the late 19th century as homes, the properties at 312–356 Dundas West gained heritage status in 1973, and now host a mix of galleries, cafés, and other businesses.

The building at number 330 stands out for its shape, colour, and newness. An infill property that sits snugly between number 326 (the Howard Bryant House) and 334 (the Richard Chadd House), 330 is the relatively modern two-and-a-half-storey commercial building that replaced one of the original detached houses. It’s a quirky build, but not entirely out of place with OCAD University right around the corner.

The address opened as We’ave, an arts and music complex, in March of 1997. Its original general manager, Sherri Ranger, had envisioned the venue as an artists’ co-op.

“We’ave stood for ‘We Have,’ which was Sherri’s concept,” explains musician and DJ Barbi Castelvi, hired in April ’97 as its live-music booker and publicist.

“They were having some parties, but there was no liquor licence or restaurant yet,” Castelvi explains in an email interview. “It was literally a drop-in artist co-op. [Experimental jazz ensemble] GUH already had a residency; they were Sherri’s friends. There were also artist workshops, curated by Sherri.”

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2000s, Disco, Dub, Electro, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Indie Rock, Live Music, New Wave, Post-punk, Reggae, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: 56 Kensington a.k.a. Club 56

December 5, 2014
56 Kensington GTO ___ 52826c4231c60-56-Kensington-exterior-by-Randreac

Outside Club 56. Photo by RANDREAC.

 

Article originally published November 12, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

It was a dark, dingy death-trap. But in the early 2000s, there was no better place to party than in this Kensington basement.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Club 56, 56C Kensington Ave.

Years in operation: 2001-2004

History: In the early 2000s, Kensington Market was not much of a destination for dancing. Market nightlife mainly consisted of punk and reggae shows, the occasional low-key lounge or restaurant, impromptu gatherings in the park, and boozecans. Streets tended to be quiet by night and busy by day, when people flooded in to buy vegetables and second-hand clothes.

Squeezed between random storefronts and a TD bank machine, 56C Kensington was easy to miss. Its glass-door entrance was set in from the sidewalk, and was frequently covered in posters. Layers of paint hinted at the location’s past lives, including as an after-hours and, before that, a Vietnamese karaoke bar.

By 2001, a man named Laszlo or Leslye (the English translation) owned the basement bar that came to be known as Club 56. At first, his clientele consisted largely of friends, many of them fellow Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans. It was a social club of sorts.

That same year, a DJ and promoter named Mike Wallace was searching for a new spot to throw his parties. He and Rob Judges—two Scarborough-raised music lovers who’d been friends since grade four—had made names for themselves through a party called Skeme. From 1995 to ’97, the duo scoped underused spaces, bouncing from legion halls to Ethiopian restaurants, Kensington’s Lion Bar and Top o’ the Market and, most successfully, to Spadina’s Club Shanghai.

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1980s, 1990s, 2000s, African, Blues, Dub, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Latin, Live Music, Reggae, Ska, Soul

Then & Now: BamBoo

December 3, 2014

Take a tour of the BamBoo through the gallery above. All photos noted as courtesy of Patti Habib are copyright the Estate of Richard O’Brien and the BamBoo.

 

Article originally published July 16, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

Denise Benson revisits the legendary restaurant and club that served as an island oasis amid a rapidly transforming Queen West strip.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: BamBoo, 312 Queen St. W.

Years in operation: 1983-2002

History: Like the best of clubs, Toronto’s BamBoo was produced out of friendships, late-night revelry, and the desire to create a unique experience for a core community. The path that co-owners Richard O’Brien and Patti Habib took to get there was filled with fateful turns.

Both were in media and loved the nightlife: O’Brien had been a freelance journalist and live-music booker in California before returning to Toronto where he worked for TVOntario and later CBC, while Habib was a story producer for CBC Radio’s As It Happens. In the late 1970s, O’Brien, also known to friends as Ricci Moderne, partnered with infamous bon vivant Marcus O’Hara to produce annual St. Patrick’s Day parties, dubbed the Martian Awareness Ball (2013 marked its 35th anniversary), with Habib joining them a few years in.

Not long after, the trio—along with a group of friends that also included Dan Aykroyd, publicist Joanne Smale, John Ball, and Roots co-founder Michael Budman—put together an extensive business proposal to re-open The Embassy Tavern, a 1960s Yorkville bar and live-music venue. The plans did not come to fruition. Instead, in 1980, O’Brien and Habib launched the MBC boozecan in what had been her third-floor loft at the corner of Liberty and Jefferson.

“I had to move out,” laughs Habib during a lengthy phone chat. “Richard brought in all his records, and it became an after-hours club opened Mondays—a theatre night—and Thursdays only.”

For two years, the duo drew crowds to this largely deserted part of town we now know as Liberty Village. They booked bands that ranged from reggae to Rough Trade, from a newly formed Parachute Club to soul man Junior Walker. Jamaican patties were the only food served. Income earned at the door was hidden in record covers, and put aside with larger goals in mind.

Habib and O’Brien were also regulars at influential upstairs Queen West boozecan-cum-nightly-artist-hangout The Paper Door. As luck would have it, on an evening spent sitting on the venue’s back balcony, O’Brien looked down and spotted Wicker World, a shop at 312 Queen St. W. set back from the street. The location had been a laundry for years before, looked industrial, and piqued O’Brien’s curiosity. Not long after, he spotted a “For Lease” sign at the address, put down a deposit, and was given three months’ free rent in order to build his business.

Continue Reading…

1990s, 2000s, Breaks, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, Dub, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Jazz, Live Music, Reggae, Rock

Then & Now: Gypsy Co-op

November 24, 2014
Gypsy Co-op Gio 1

DJ Gio Cristiano (far right) beside Gypsy co-owner Mike Borg and friends. Photo courtesy of Cristiano.

 

Article originally published April 18, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

Denise Benson revisits this influential Queen West resto-lounge that brought together bohos, bankers, artists and trendsetters for a menu that included good eats, DJed beats, a smorgasbord of live music, and a diverse cast of characters.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Gypsy Co-op, 817 Queen West

Years in operation: 1995–2006

History: Though perhaps now difficult to imagine, in mid-1990s Toronto, it was still unusual for bar and restaurant owners to open sizable spots on Queen Street west of Bathurst. Trinity Bellwoods Park felt far-off, while Parkdale was not the trendy destination point it is today.

Still, evening social life on Queen was slowly moving westward. Boom Boom Room had run successfully for five years, Sanctuary had brought the goths to Queen and Palmerston, Squirly’s offered cheap nosh ‘til late, and Terroni opened its original location at 720 Queen West in 1992.

A pioneering address was 817 Queen Street West, near Claremont. In the late ‘80s, Marcus and Michael O’Hara opened the über-cool Squeeze Club there. The Squeeze was a combo restaurant, bar, art space, and billiards hall that soared at first, and struggled later. When the business went up for sale, the brothers Borg scored the location.

Marcus O'Hara's Squeeze Club pre-dated Gypsy at 817 Queen West. Photo courtesy Vintage Toronto.

Marcus O’Hara’s Squeeze Club pre-dated Gypsy at 817 Queen West. Photo courtesy Vintage Toronto.

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1970s, After-hours, Dance Music, Disco, Gay, Live Music, Pop, Punk

Then & Now: Club David’s

November 24, 2014
Club David’s GTO ___ 51a7a0c4bcc10-Sister-Rock-On-aka-Jimmy-Alan

Allan Bell a.k.a. Phyllis (left) with Sister Rock-On at David’s. Photo courtesy of Wendy Peacock.

 

Article originally published March 26, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

In its brief lifespan, this ‘70s hotspot served as both a gay disco and punk-rock haven—before it all ended in a mysterious fire and murder.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Club David’s, 16 Phipps

Years in operation: 1975-1977

History: The allure that the Yonge and St. Joseph area once held for creatures of the night has been detailed in a number of previous Then & Now pieces, including those about early 1980s venues Voodoo and Club Z. Here, we visit a prior decade to travel a short distance south, down a once-existing strip of the St. Nicholas alleyway, to a barely-there street called Phipps.

Moving and storage company Rawlinson Cartage constructed the building at 16 Phipps in the late 1890s. A small tunnel, thought to once hold a conveyor belt, connected it to the building directly north, at 11A St. Joseph. As with a number of neighbouring structures, it was also erected by Rawlinson.

In the early 1970s, 11A St. Joseph was home to popular all-ages gay male dance club The Manatee. Nearby Yonge Street bars The Parkside Tavern and St. Charles Tavern were gay hotspots, as was intimate Isabella Street disco Mrs. Knights.

Club David’s added new possibilities to the mix when Jay Cochrane and Sandy Leblanc opened it in the spring of 1975.

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1970s, 1980s, After-hours, Alternative, Goth, Industrial, Live Music, New Wave, Post-punk, Ska

Then & Now: Domino Klub

November 21, 2014

All photos in gallery by Alice Lipczak, Wonderland Photography 

 

Article originally published March 12, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

Denise Benson revisits both the original Isabella Street location that laid down the breeding ground for Toronto’s early-‘80s alternative music and fashion scenes –also seeming to be U2’s home away from home– and the Yonge Street haunt that later served as a hangout for goths, punks and ska fans alike.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Domino Klub (1 Isabella St.), later Klub Domino (279 Yonge St.)

Years in operation: 1979-1987

History: In the late 1970s through much of the ’80s, Yonge and Isabella was an epicentre for emergent music, arts, and fashion culture. The area came alive at night, with numerous booze-cans and after-hours clubs drawing dancers to upper-level locations on Yonge and decadent discos on side streets, especially St. Joseph. Before Domino’s opened upstairs at 1 Isabella, the venue had been the Cheetah Club. Owned by Gunther Weswaldi, whose background was in the food and beverage industry, the Cheetah was short lived. It’s thought that Weswaldi and his wife Darlene opened Domino at this address in early 1979. (Weswaldi’s current whereabouts are unknown.) Advertised as a venue where people could meet for “lunch, dinner, dancing, disco,” Domino’s was a licensed restaurant and nightclub open daily. It did not launch with a distinct identity. Continue Reading…

1980s, Dance Music, Disco, Funk, Jazz, Lesbian, Live Music, New Wave, Pop, Rock

Then & Now: Chez Moi

November 3, 2014
CHEZ MOI T-shirt!

DJ Dallas (centre, in Chez Moi T-shirt) and friends. Photo courtesy of Dallas Noftall.

 

Article originally published January 14, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

In the 1980s, Toronto’s lesbian scene was underground—quite literally, as it was often relegated to out-of-sight basement venues. Here, Denise Benson revisits the club that changed all that.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Chez Moi, 30 Hayden

Years in operation: 1984-1989

History: Though it may be difficult for younger dykes socializing in today’s Toronto to imagine, it wasn’t so long ago that queer women in this city had few options for meeting, dancing, and creating community.

From the late 1970s into the ’80s, there were occasional “Women’s Dances” (rarely was there a trendy title to be found) at venues including The Masonic Temple, The Party Centre, and The 519 Community Centre, as well as union halls, church basements and, well, basements in general. Lesbian bars were often dark, small, and far from central, although some—like The Blue Jay, Kit Kat Club, Deco’s, Fly By Night, Cameo, and The Warehouse—are still talked about lovingly in some lesbian circles. There were also mixed queer venues, like The Carriage House on Jarvis, The Quest on Yonge, and Katrina’s on St. Joseph, where gay women were very welcome.

By the time Chez Moi opened in 1984, there was a dearth of social spots for lesbians, despite the explosion of gay men’s bars on Yonge, Church, and surrounding streets. In fact, The Chez itself wasn’t even a dedicated spot for women when it first opened.

Continue Reading…

2000s, 2010s, Alternative, Electro, Electronic, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Live Music, Post-punk, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: Mod Club

October 28, 2014
Mod Club GTO ___ mark-centre

Mark Holmes—a.k.a. DJ MRK—holds court at the Mod Club Theatre. Photo by Trevor Roberts.

Article originally published November 16, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

As the Mod Club Theatre turns 10, Then & Now explores the story of how a ‘60s-retro dance night came to spawn a world-class concert and DJ venue, transforming College Street in the process.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Mod Club Theatre, 722 College

Years in operation: 2002-present

History: To share the history of how The Mod Club Theatre came to be, one must first trace College Street’s evolution as a nightlife destination. The stretch of College running west of Bathurst to Dovercourt has, of course, long been a hub for Italian, Portuguese and Latino communities. Restaurants and cafés have dotted the strip for decades—with Café Diplomatico at College and Clinton serving as a landmark spot for over 40 years—but it wasn’t until the 1990s that people began to open a broader array of venues that would entertain into the wee hours.

El Convento Rico—originally a haven for Latin gays, lesbians and transgendered people—opened in 1992, bringing dancing and drag shows to College and Crawford. The early-to-mid ’90s also saw the opening of spots including Souz Dal, College Street Bar, Ted’s Collision, and Alex Lifeson’s live music venue The Orbit Room. Intimate café 52 Inc. fed, entertained and politicized on the other side of Bathurst from 1995-2000, while Bar Italia opened on College in 1996 and Ted Footman launched Ted’s Wrecking Yard and Barcode—two floors of live music in one building—in 1997.

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