All photos in the gallery courtesy of the CN Tower Archives.
Article originally published December 21, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
In this edition of Then & Now, we travel back three decades—and up 1,100 feet—to revisit the CN Tower’s beloved in-house discotheque.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Sparkles, 301 Front St. W.
Years in operation: 1979-1991
History: When the construction of Toronto’s iconic CN Tower began in February of 1973, few would have imagined it filled with strobe lights and spandex. The Canadian National Railroad’s Tower would be an impressive engineering feat, serving as both tourist attraction and a communications boon for radio and television broadcasters seeking a taller building on which to place transmitters for stronger signals.
The CN Tower opened to the public in June 26, 1976. At that time, the surrounding area was far from dense or residential. The north side of Front Street was largely parking lots, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre had not been built, nor had the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). In fact, one accessed the Tower by walking through a pedestrian bridge—starting from where Rogers Centre is now—that crossed over sets of train tracks. There was a reflecting pool at the Tower’s base, and fields nearby.
In 1979, to coincide with the Tower’s third anniversary, one-third of the indoor observation level was developed into a discothèque. The goal was to attract diverse evening crowds to this floor, which lay below the Tower’s rotating 360 Restaurant and above the outdoor observation deck.
The scene at Stages. Photo by Terry Robson, courtesy of Arnie Kliger.
Article originally published December 4, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
With the help of two rare DJ mixes, we revisit the early-‘80s Yonge Street club that provided Toronto’s gay community with a safe haven and showcased cutting-edge dance-music sounds, before the spectre of AIDS brought the party to a close.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Stages, 530 Yonge
Years in operation: 1977-1984
History: The northwest corner of Yonge and Breadalbane was once occupied by the Hotel Breadalbane. In 1945, the Bolter family purchased the hotel and would transform the downstairs of 530 Yonge into The Parkside Tavern. The Bolters also owned The St. Charles Tavern, at 488 Yonge. By the mid-1960s, both taverns were known to be gay bars.
At that point in history, gay nightlife in Toronto was still very much underground. It was common for the heterosexual owners of gay bars to be contemptuous of their clientele. This seems to have been the situation at The Parkside, a dingy beer hall largely frequented by a daytime crowd. The Parkside’s owners allowed police to regularly spy on patrons in the washrooms, waiting to nab men engaged in any sort of sexual acts. Arrests were made, and the practice continued throughout the 1970s, even as gay activists organized leafleting campaigns and called for boycotts of the bar.
These conflicts were characteristic of the time. During the mid-to-late-1970s, Yonge Street was the main artery of Toronto gay social life (it would shift to Church in the mid-1980s). Those looking to dance could hit a number of spots near Yonge and Wellesley, like The Manatee, The Quest, Katrina’s, Club David’s, The Maygay (later Charly’s), and Cornelius, which sat above biker bar The Gasworks. By 1977, there were even two gay-owned bars in the area: The Barn, opened by Janko Naglic at 418 Church, and small cruise bar Dudes, opened by Roger Wilkes, a founder of the York University Homophile Association, and his partner David Payne in an alley just behind The Parkside.
Crowd at Komrads. Photo courtesy of Shawn Riker.
Article originally published June 21, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
In this edition of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson takes us back to the after-hours nightclub that helped mobilize Toronto’s gay-rights movement in the 1980s.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Komrads, 1 Isabella St.
Years in operation: 1985-1991
History: In 1980s’ Toronto, street corners and dance clubs still served as essential meeting spots for gays and other marginalized communities. The stretch of Isabella closest to Yonge called out to many, especially after dark.
On the outer edges of the Church and Wellesley-centred gay village, the corner was close to popular homo haunts including Yonge Street’s St. Charles Tavern, Trax, and the Parkside Tavern, with gay dance club Stages above it. Nearby bathhouses were plentiful, Queen’s Park was still a major pick-up spot, and easy bar-hopping meant that gay men had lots of options even in those pre-Grindr days.
“The Yonge and Isabella area was really amazingly gay,” recalls event producer Maxwell Blandford, once a key figure in adventuresome Toronto clubs and now based in Miami. “Many bars, along with stores like Northbound Leather, were within a couple of blocks and infused thousands of gay people into that corridor.
Tazmanian Ballroom advertisement, courtesy of Karen Young.
Article originally published March 30, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
A look back at the ‘80s east-end haunt that imported U.K. rave culture to Toronto, let dancers openly shag on the third floor, and gave a young Gerard Butler his first gig as a doorman.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Tazmanian Ballroom, 99-101 Jarvis
Years in operation: 1987-1990
History: Just as true characters have frequented Toronto’s most memorable nightclubs, they’ve owned them as well. Few have been as influential, audacious, or fanciful as nightlife impresario and restaurateur Johnny Katsuras. Since the late 1970s, the man better known as Johnny K has owned and operated a wide variety of thematic hot spots—often with wife, business partner, and chef Laura Prentice—in areas just off the beaten path, with a lean towards the city’s east end.
In the second half of 1987, Katsuras followed on the success of his establishments—including his long-running, self-titled resto and surprisingly successful Beaches dance bar Krush—by turning attention to Jarvis and Richmond. Here, in an area filled with historic, often underused commercial buildings, Johnny K purchased a three-floor heritage property built in 1898, once known as MacFarlane’s Hotel. It had previously operated as The Jarvis House and then gay bar Club 101 by the Chrysalis Group, also owners of Yorkville mega-club The Copa.
Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.
Article originally published March 15, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
Denise Benson looks back at the massive, corporate-owned Yorkville spot that helped create Toronto’s big-ticket nightclub experience in the early 1980s.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: The Copa, 21 Scollard
Years in operation: 1984 – 1992 [Original article stated 1983 - 1992]
History: Yorkville dance club and concert venue The Copa made its mark as one of the largest and busiest nightclubs to emerge in early 1980s Toronto. Opened in August 1984, the hotspot was located on the south side of Scollard, in a mixed commercial and residential area.
Its owners, the Chrysalis Group, were no strangers to Yorkville, having already opened trendy restaurants Bemelmans and the Bellair Café nearby. Chrysalis, in particular its CEO Tom Kristenbrun, would also go on to open Toby’s Goodeats and Bistro 990, but Chrysalis Group would make their mark with music as well as food.
Anything could happen at Club Z. Photos courtesy of INK Entertainment.
Article originally published February 16, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
In this instalment of her ongoing nightlife-history series, Denise Benson looks back at the first club creation of Toronto nightlife magnate Charles Khabouth. At just 22 years old, he opened Club Z in 1984, but its groundbreaking legacy lives on to this day.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Club Z, 11A St. Joseph Street
Years in operation: 1984-1989
History: Tracing the history of this city’s nightlife tells us much about its physical transformation and urban development. Nowhere is this more obvious than at the corner of Yonge and St. Joseph. Here, we’ve recently seen a few significant buildings largely demolished as part of their ongoing metamorphosis into Five Condos.
I had often wondered about the physical similarities between the original red brick buildings at 610 Yonge, 5 and 11 St. Joseph, and 15 St. Nicholas, but only recently noticed the plaque on 11’s easterly side. It turns out that moving and storage company Rawlinson Cartage built all of them, with the warehouse space of 11 St. Joseph constructed between 1895 and 1898.
Gay Torontonians who socialized in the 1970s and early ‘80s will remember 11A St. Joseph as popular all-ages discotheque Club Manatee, a three-level spot where the DJ booth was in the bow of a boat hanging above the crowd.
In September of 1984, directly after the Manatee’s closing, a 22-year-old Charles Khabouth debuted as a nightlife entrepreneur by opening Club Z in that very location. Now known as the CEO of INK Entertainment, whose many impressive properties include The Guvernment, La Société Bistro and the Bisha hotel/condo project, Khabouth started with just $30,000 and a desire to fuse his love of music, fashion and dance.