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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 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.


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.

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1990s, 2000s, Dance Music, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Jazz, Latin, Soul

Then & Now: Roxy Blu

January 13, 2017

Click through the photo gallery for many more moments and memories from Roxy Blu.


The original Then & Now: Roxy Blu article was published September 21, 2011 by The That story launched Then & Now: Toronto Nightlife History, originally envisioned as a series of brief articles devoted to defunct but influential Toronto music venues. As Then & Now’s popularity and reach expanded, it became increasingly important to include more voices in each story. As a result, the earliest stories for The Grid were entirely rewritten for Then & Now in book format. This expanded history of Roxy Blu was written in March 2015, and was exclusively available in the Then & Now book until this time.


Roxy Blu was home to the soulful side of Toronto’s dance-music underground, and with its four rooms, welcoming atmosphere, and loyal community of followers, Roxy fostered and supported a culture where parties and promoters could create without compromise.


Club: Roxy Blu, 12 Brant

Years in operation: 1998 – 2005

HistoryAlthough it would come to be known as a community-minded hotbed for soulful house and other underground sounds, Roxy Blu was decidedly different than any other club projects owner Amar Singh had ever touched.

In the early to mid-’90s, he and Bill Kourbetis worked together as B&A, promoting events at ritzy, popular nightclubs like Stilife, Skorpio, Orchid, and Exit II Eden. They parted as co- promoters when Singh opened a club called Bauhaus at 31 Mercer. Known for its see-and- be-seen Martini Mondays, well-dressed crowds, and sleek design, Bauhaus was successful, but Singh walked away six months after opening.

“I just wasn’t there mentally,” he says; “I knew I wanted to be in the industry, but I had to make some changes. I sold my shares for pennies on the dollar.”

Singh took another approach for his next venue.

“I didn’t want to do what I did with Bauhaus, which was spend so much on renovations. The clubs that I used to go to, that I really, really loved, were not the club I created in Bauhaus. The club I created was the kind I used to promote—the Orchids and so on, all pretty and nice. To this day, the clubs I loved going to the most were Tazmanian Ballroom—anything Johnny K really; he was my mentor—and of course Twilight Zone, as well as Le Tube. Those are the places, along with some spots in New York, that really inspired me in my next venture, which became Roxy Blu.”

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1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, Dance Music, Disco, Electro, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Post-punk, Rave, Soul, Techno, Toronto Rave

THEN & NOW: Book July 15. Launch July 23.

July 12, 2015
Then & Now book cover. Design by Noel Dix.

Then & Now book cover. Design by Noel Dix.

Then and Now: Toronto Nightlife History
By Denise Benson. Foreword by Stuart Berman.

Published by Three O’Clock Press. Publication Date: July 15, 2015  

562 pages, with four sections of colour photos. 

More info and to pre-order:

The history of Toronto’s nightlife reveals its pulse.

From award-winning veteran music journalist and DJ Denise Benson comes Then & Now: Toronto Nightlife History, a fascinating, intimate look at four decades of social spaces, dance clubs, and live music venues. Through interviews, research, and enthusiastic feedback from the party people who were there, Benson delves deep behind the scenes to reveal the histories of 48 influential nightlife spaces, and the story of a city that has grown alongside its sounds.

Advance Praise

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, Toronto has known how to party for a while. Then & Now tells a heretofore untold social history of Toronto, including the clubs where often-marginalized people found both community and liberation deep into the night. This book is an essential chapter of Toronto’s recent history.” ̶    Shawn Micallef, Author and Spacing Co-owner

“The early days of punk and new wave at The Edge; clubs like Voodoo and Twilight Zone where you could be normal being weird; playing Depeche Mode and New Order at Focus and Club Z; dancing to The Specials at Nuts and Bolts and Fad Gadget at Domino Klub; playing The Happy Mondays at Empire … Legendary Toronto club culture and memories brilliantly captured and stamped in time.” ̶    Scot Turner, Producer/Host CFNY 102.1, Program Director Energy 108

“Denise Benson’s Then & Now … shines a deserved light on the many young, often disenfranchised, DJs, promoters, and business owners who created scenes from nothing, providing safe and exciting spaces for alternative communities and culture to flourish. Denise gets it so right because she was there herself, is still there. Good thing, since reading her chronicles makes me want to dance!” ̶    Liisa Ladouceur, author Encyclopedia Gothica

“Denise … ambassadors all good things in the Toronto music scene. The work she’s accomplished documenting pivotal moments in club history is nothing short of amazing. She is a proven archivist and we are lucky to have someone with this level of passion in our ever-growing and evolving scene.” ̶    Nitin Kalyan aka DJ/producer Nitin, co-founder of No.19 Music

Then & Now launch party poster design by Noel Dix

Then & Now launch party poster design by Noel Dix

Please join us in celebrating the release of Then & Now: Toronto Nightlife History!

Denise Benson in conversation with Stuart Berman (8:30-9:30)
followed by DJs spinning through sounds, genres and decades from 10pm ’til late.






Then & Now will be for sale at a special launch price and Denise will be signing books.


About the launch party:

Light refreshments will be provided.
There will be a cash bar and a full dinner menu available to launch guests.

The main floor of NEST is physically accessible. We regret that there will not be ASL interpretation provided.
Please contact: with any accessibility queries or concerns.

This is a FREE event.


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.


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…

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 (

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.


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.

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1980s, 1990s, Dance Music, Disco, Electro, Gay, House, New Wave, Pop

Then & Now: Boots

December 3, 2014
Boots staff, including Casey McNeill (in denim shirt) and Brent Storey (in white tank top). Photo courtesy of Storey.

The Boots dancefloor during a 1990s Pride weekend event. Photo courtesy of Casey McNeill.


Article originally published September 17, 2013 by The Grid online (

One of the largest and longest-lasting gay dance clubs in Toronto, this Sherbourne Street super-club went through a number of evolutions as it spurred the local mainstreaming of gay culture during the ’80s and ’90s.


Club: Boots/Boots Warehouse, 592 Sherbourne St.

Years in operation: 1981-2000

History: The story of Boots, one of Toronto’s best-known and longest-lasting gay dance clubs, begins in 1980 at the Waldorf Astoria apartment building. The basement of what was once a hotel at 80 Charles St. E. was rented to a group of men; their first incarnation of Boots proved popular enough that there were noise complaints. The lease was not renewed.

The original Boots on Charles Street. Photo by Joan Anderson, courtesy of the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives.

The original Boots on Charles Street. Photo by Joan Anderson,
courtesy of the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives.

By late summer of 1981, Boots re-opened in another lower-level location, this time at 592 Sherbourne St., site of the historic Selby Hotel. Once a grand mansion, the building was constructed in the late-1800s, and was home for more than 20 years to members of the wealthy Gooderham family. In 1910, a large addition built on the rear of the mansion opened as Branksome Hall, a private school for girls.

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1990s, After-hours, Dance Music, Disco, Funk, House, Latin, Soul

Then & Now: Boa Café

November 30, 2014
Boa Café GTO ___ 519a767f80c37-BOA-Cafe-3

Boa Cafe, as it appeared in the Oct. 1991 edition of Interior Design magazine. Photo courtesy of INK Entertainment.


Article originally published May 23, 2013 by The Grid online (

A special two-part edition of Denise Benson’s nightlife-history series begins with a trip back to the Yorkville venue that brought fine dining and club culture together—before going down in a hail of bullets.


Club: Boa Café, 25 Bellair

Years in operation: 1989-1998

History: This is a tale of two interconnected yet vastly different Toronto venues, each influential in its own way. For this article, I will be focussing on the first, Boa Café; the story of its second incarnation, Boa Redux, will be told in the next edition of Then & Now.

At the story’s centre lies Rony Hitti.

“I grew up in a family of restaurateurs and hoteliers, and was supposed to be the banker in the family,” says Hitti, who would instead become owner-operator of both Boas.

Hitti dutifully studied business finance and politics at York University, but also DJed steadily during the 1980s. He played a variety of Midtown-area clubs, and started his own DJ company, dubbed Earthquake in reference to the powerful Sensurround sound system created for the 1974 film of the same name.

“It used to shake movie theatres, and I bought one. I did pretty much all of the dances at York with that system.”

Banking didn’t work out for Hitti at the time, nor did dishwashing at his father’s restaurant. Instead, he studied culinary arts in Switzerland for a year. Upon returning, Hitti brainstormed a business plan with Charles Khabouth; the two Lebanese-Canadians had become friends as Hitti spent much time at Khabouth’s trendsetting Stilife nightclub.

“Charles and I were really close. We hung out, and traveled together. On a trip to Montreal, we went to a place called Lola’s Paradise. Lola’s was fine dining with that really cool Montreal vibe. We thought Toronto could use something like it. Continue Reading…

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 (

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.


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.

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 (

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.


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.

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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 (

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.


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…