Browsing Category

Alternative

1980s, After-hours, All-ages, Alternative, Dance Music, Disco, Electro, Freestyle, Funk, Gay, Goth, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Post-punk

Then & Now: TWILIGHT ZONE (extended mix)

March 16, 2017
L to R: Michael Griffiths, Albert, Michael, David and Tony Assoon. Photo by Charmaine Gooden.

(L to R) Michael Griffiths with Albert, Michael, David and Tony Assoon. Photo by Charmaine Gooden.

The original Then & Now: Twilight Zone article was published October 5, 2011 and was second in the web series originally developed for The GridTO.com. As the Then & Now series expanded in reach, so too did the length of each story and number of participants who contributed to each. This expanded history of the Zone was written in March 2015, and was exclusively available in the Then & Now book until this time.

 

Trailblazing 1980s nightclub Twilight Zone brought diverse crowds and sounds to Toronto’s Entertainment District long before such a designation even existed. Those who were there lovingly explore its lasting legacy.

ByDENISE BENSON

Club: Twilight Zone, 185 Richmond Street W.

Years in operation: 1980 – 1989

HistoryLong 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 opened a venue that ultimately influenced the neighbourhood’s development.

Tony, Albert, David, and Michael Assoon forever altered Toronto’s dance club nightscape with their Twilight Zone, but that venue’s reach was rooted in earlier efforts. The Assoon family moved from New York to Toronto in the 1970s. During their high school years in Scarborough, the music-savvy siblings produced events in school spaces.

“That was back in the day, when Soul Train was on, and we wanted to have something that was more in our culture,” describes Tony Assoon. “We decided to have the first soul party ever in Toronto. It was funk music, a little bit of disco, and so forth. That’s how we started.”

Assoon says they produced a few successful parties, and the idea spread to other high schools before the brothers all graduated. Tony moved back to New York during the height of the disco days.

“I was a club hound,” he laughs during our lengthy conversation. “I went to all kinds of places, like the Commodore Hotel, Night Owl, The Great Gatsby, Paradise Garage, The Loft, and Milky Way.

“One of the clubs that I hung out at a lot, that really influenced me, was called Melons. It was on the top floor of a loft and was a roller skating rink in the daytime. A legendary DJ called Tee Scott played there. Later, Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles also played.”

Assoon brought his knowledge and love of New York clubs, style, and music with him when his parents requested that he return to Toronto. He mentions checking our ’70s disco hotspots like Heavens, Checkers, and Mrs. Nights, but landing a job at the Yonge and Bloor Le Chateau clothing store, conveniently located next to a modeling agency, connected him with a different crowd.

“We all loved fashion,” says Tony. “At that time, the whole new wave look was in so we’d dress freaky.”

The Assoons began to do parties at places like The Ports, on Yonge near Summerhill, and in a building on Sherbourne.

“They were great promoters,” says friend Charmaine Gooden of the brothers. She first met them at The Ports, then spent lots of time listening to music with the Assoons and other friends, and attended their early events.

“They started renting rec rooms in apartment buildings to have parties. These were well attended by a diverse, mixed-up crowd—older, younger, money, and fashion. Part of the fun was dressing up. [People came] from Forest Hill, Regent Park, the suburbs, and Scar- borough, so it was varied.”

Through the apartment parties, the Assoons built a solid following and set out to find larger, more secluded spaces.

“We first experimented at 666 King West in September of 1979,” recalls Albert Assoon. “We had to move from there quickly because dust started pouring out of the ceiling from the vibration of the bass. We went on the prowl and eventually wound up at 185 Richmond West. We sought these locations because they were in areas where we wouldn’t get noise complaints or disturb residents.”

“It was desolate,” says Tony of the Richmond and Simcoe area where the Assoons, along with close friends Bromely Vassell and Luis Collaco, launched the Twilight Zone in January of 1980. “It was just industry and factory buildings. Everyone thought we were kind of crazy for moving there, and into a warehouse, but I was used to seeing things like that in New York, so it didn’t seem to be a big deal.”

Soon, crowds would come from far and wide to attend this magical late-night place where the mix of people was as eclectic as the music they were treated to.

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…

1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Dance Music, Disco, Funk, New Wave, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: The Big Bop, part 1

December 10, 2014

Click through the photo gallery to see more scenes from inside the Big Bop.

 

Article originally published April 29, 2014 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

In the mid-1980s, the Queen-and-Bathurst area was a wasteland—until this multi-floor/multi-genre dance-club rocked the corner to life, and shifted the future course of Toronto nightlife in the process.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: The Big Bop, 651 Queen St. W.

Years in operation: 1986-1996

History: The heritage building on the southeast corner of Queen West and Bathurst has long been a prominent marker in Toronto’s collective consciousness. Originally known as The Occidental Building, it was built in 1876 for the Toronto Masons, and was the work of Toronto-born architect E. J. Lennox who also designed Old City Hall, Casa Loma, and more than 70 other buildings in this city.

The south-east corner of Queen and Bathurst, circa 1928.

The south-east corner of Queen and Bathurst, circa 1928.

In 1948, the upper part of 651 Queen St. W. was demolished and the address opened as the Holiday Tavern. The Holiday was a dinner club, complete with stage shows, including jazz and R&B bands. Later, the Tavern would become known as a beer hall and strip club. An attempt to revive it as a live-music venue was made in the ’80s, with bands like The Shuffle Demons holding down residencies.

It was also during this period, specifically in 1984, that the largely white building underwent a neon, new-wave makeover by Toronto artist Bart Schoales, who was commissioned to create both interior and exterior murals.

Continue Reading…

1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Electronic, House, Industrial, Rave, Rock

Then & Now: Empire Dancebar

December 4, 2014
Empire GTO ___ 525441edbf581-Empire-Opening-of-Psych-Wed

The Empire crew is decked out and ready to dig Psychedelic Wednesdays. Photo courtesy of Michelle Fabry.

 

Article originally published October 8, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

This edition of Denise Benson’s Toronto-nightlife history series tells the story of how a local gay-community landmark was reborn in the late ’80s as a cutting-edge alternative club where you could dance to acid-rock and acid-house alike.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Empire Dancebar, 488A Yonge

Years in operation: 1988-1992

History: In a city where history is so often obliterated or obscured to make way for the new, there’s something comforting about the old clock tower still found atop 484-488 Yonge. It was built in 1870, as part of the original Toronto Fire Hall No. 3, which remained at the address until its move around the corner, to Grosvenor Street, in 1929.

After the hall closed on Yonge, that building was occupied by retail businesses until the St. Charles Tavern took root in 1951. By the early 1960s, the St. Charles was known to be a gay bar. It, along with the nearby Parkside Tavern, became a significant gathering spot that would help hasten the development of queer social life anchored around Yonge during the 1970s. The St. Charles, while also remembered as the focus of homophobic attacks (especially at Halloween), remains one of this city’s best-known gay bars of all time. A number of discos opened above it over the years, with the most popular being The Maygay and Charly’s. A club called Y-Not also operated upstairs in the mid 1980s. By 1987, following years of neglect, the St. Charles was a shadow of its former self and closed.

A year later, the upper level would re-open as Empire Dancebar, a versatile venue dreamed up by friends Dave Craig and Michael Marier. As a teen, Craig had been an MC and DJ in TKO Sound Crew, a popular group that was eventually inducted into the Stylus Awards Hall of Fame in 2008. Craig left TKO to join a new crew, Romantic Sounds, which was started by Marier. Together, they produced events including The House, a weekly underground jam held at the Party Centre at Church and Shuter. As their crowds increased each week, so too did the building manager’s rent demands.

“Eventually Mike’s dad, Bob, suggested that we should get our own space, and he funded the creation of Empire with a quarter-of-a-million dollar investment,” says Craig.

Continue Reading…

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…

1990s, Alternative, Dance Music, Electronic, Gay, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Go-Go

November 18, 2014
Go-Go GTO ___ Go-Go-Ad-1992

Image from a Go-Go newspaper ad, circa 1992. Courtesy of Cheryl Butson.

 

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

The Ballinger brothers – owners of clubs including the Big Bop and Boom Boom Room – were not known for creating sophisticated spots. That changed with the chic, tri-level super-club that brought long line-ups to the Entertainment District in the early 1990s.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Go-Go, 250 Richmond St. W.

Years in operation: 1990-1993

History: Though based in Toronto for less than a decade, the brothers Ballinger made a long-lasting impression. The “Rock ‘n’ Roll Farmers” from Dundalk were entrepreneurs who’d originally opened a variety of venues in Cambridge, Ontario in the late 1970s.

In 1986, Lon, Stephen, Doug, and Peter Ballinger opened the multi-leveled Big Bop club at Queen and Bathurst. The wildly popular hangout would anchor the southeast corner for over two decades, and was the cornerstone of the club empire the Ballingers would build. Their Boom Boom Room, opened at Queen and Palmerston in 1988, was much smaller in size, but was trendsetting with its mix of rock, alternative, house, and queer nights. With a few years’ experience in T.O. and a staff that was willing and able to bounce between venues, the Ballingers soon set their sites on 250 Richmond St. W. for an ambitious new venture.

Richmond and Duncan was not yet an obvious choice of location. After-hours club Twilight Zone had closed just the year before, and Charles Khabouth’s Stilife, located directly across the street, was showing signs of slowing. Beyond these venues, and after-hours rave destination 23 Hop, which would soon open at 318 Richmond St. W., the area was still largely deserted at night.

But with Doug Ballinger at the wheel, the brothers would develop a 14,000 square foot, tri-level warehouse building into one of the most innovative and influential clubs Toronto would experience in the 1990s.

Continue Reading…

1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Disco, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: Stilife

November 17, 2014
Stilife GTO ___ stilife

Stilife interior. Photo courtesy of INK Entertainment.

 

Article originally published January 28, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

After cutting his teeth in nightlife as owner of Club Z on St. Joseph, Charles Khabouth relocated to open this dramatically designed destination spot that kick-started the development of Toronto’s Entertainment District.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Stilife, 217 Richmond W.

Years in operation: 1987–1995

History: Built in the 1920s, the six-storey brick building on the southwest corner of Richmond and Duncan Streets exemplifies the major changes experienced by this Toronto neighbourhood as it morphed from Garment to Entertainment District.

The once heavily industrial area, located south of Queen and bordered by University to the east and Spadina to the west, was occupied by factories, warehouses and daytime workers for the better part of the 20th century. By the 1970s, most of the factories had closed, and many of the buildings lay empty. It was only after the opening of the SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre) in 1989 that municipal politicians began to amend zoning laws in order to encourage development in the region.

But in the 1980s, before these sweeping changes took place, the former Garment District was a land of opportunity.

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.

Continue Reading…

1980s, Alternative, Blues, Dance Music, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Live Music, New Wave, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: The Diamond Club

October 21, 2014

The Diamond Club dancefloor. This and all photos in gallery by Gokche Erkan. All rights reserved. 

Article originally published September 12. 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

We revisit the crown jewel of late-‘80s Toronto nightlife, where everyone from house enthusiasts to members of Pink Floyd felt right at home.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: The Diamond Club, 410 Sherbourne St.

Years in operation: 1984-1991

History: While Torontonians have known 410 Sherbourne as a dance club and concert venue for almost three decades, the building was once home to music and theatrics of a different sort. Starting in the 1950s, the German-Canadian Club Harmonie offered everything from community gatherings to oom-pah bands to ballroom dancing at the address.

In the early 1980s, New Yorker Pat Kenny entered the picture. At the time, Kenny owned or co-owned three Manhattan clubs: Greenwich Village rock spots The Bitter End and Kenny’s Castaways (now run by his son), and larger dance club and concert venue The Cat Club.

“Pat was called ‘The Bard of Bleeker Street’ because he was a larger-than-life character, and extremely well known in New York,” says Toronto club and music-industry veteran Randy Charlton, who worked for Kenny. “He helped break the careers of a lot of struggling young artists in the 1960s into the ’70s, like Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Mark Knopfler before Dire Straits was well known.”

Though based in New York, Kenny took an interest in Toronto. Friends involved in The Village Gate nightclub and dinner theatre wanted to open an offshoot location here; Kenny opened it at 410 Sherbourne, with Club Harmonie still holding court in a small space within the building. After a few unsuccessful productions, the dinner theatre folded, and Kenny rented the entire building to open a nightclub.

Continue Reading…

1990s, Alternative, Blues, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Live Music, Punk, Reggae, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: The El Mocambo, 1989 – 2001

October 7, 2014
unknown

Dan Burke under the Neon Palm, circa 2001. Photo: Peter Power / Toronto Star.

 

Article originally published August 10, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

The legendary Spadina venue has just been sold for a reported $3 million, with its new owners promising to return the club to its late-‘70s glory days. But in this edition of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson looks back at the people and parties that kept this Toronto landmark alive during its leanest years.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: The El Mocambo Tavern, 464 Spadina Ave.

Years in operation: 1946-present. Here, I focus specifically on the era spanning 1989-2001.

History: Arguably Toronto’s most illustrious live music venue, Spadina’s historic El Mocambo Tavern has meant many things to many people over the past 66 years: soul and blues hub, revered rock and roots venue, queer-punk hotbed. The building itself is said to date back to 1850, and to have acted as a haven for escaped slaves in a part of the city that was long home to a sizable African-Canadian community.

The El Mocambo, complete with infamous palm-tree sign, opened in the 1940s as a two-floor live music venue, and was granted one of Toronto’s earliest liquor licences. While it’s never been fancy, the El Mo boasts an incredible rock, soul, jazz, and blues pedigree. Charles Mingus, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Guess Who, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, U2, Blondie, and The Ramones all played there, as did a certain British band that performed two nights under the pseudonym of The Cockroaches.

“The Rolling Stones’ shows in 1977 put The El Mocambo on the ‘world stage,’” says longtime local music booker Enzo Petrungaro, who co-owned the venue from 1989 to 1992.

Continue Reading…