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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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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.


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 (

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


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, 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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1970s, 1980s, After-hours, Dance Music, Disco, Electro, Gay, New Wave

Then & Now: Stages

October 29, 2014

The scene at Stages. Photo by Terry Robson, courtesy of Arnie Kliger.


Article originally published December 4, 2012 by The Grid online (

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.


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.

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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 (

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.


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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2000s, After-hours, Dance Music, Electro, Electronic, Hip-Hop, House, Techno

Then & Now: CiRCA

October 26, 2014
from BBS upload

Inside CiRCA. Photo by Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star.


Article originally published October 22, 2012 by The Grid online (

In this edition of her Toronto-nightlife history series, Denise Benson revisits the biggest, most ambitious, and most fatally expensive nightclub the city has ever seen.


Club: CiRCA, 126 John St.

Years in operation: 2007-2010

History: The four-storey heritage property at 126 John St. has housed many businesses since its main structure was built in 1886. Originally, it was the site of John Burns Carriage Manufacturers, followed by other industrial-machinery companies.

By the early 2000s, the 53,000-square-foot space was an anchor for play in Toronto’s bustling Entertainment District. Mondo video arcade Playdium gave way to mega-dance club Lucid in 2004. The heavily hyped commercial club lasted only a year; its doors were locked in July 2005 when more than $400,000 in back rent was owed to landlord RioCan. (You just don’t mess with Canada’s largest retail real-estate firm.)

Enter New York City club magnate Peter Gatien. The Cornwall, Ontario native had moved to Toronto in 2003, following deportation from the United States. Gatien is, of course, one of the world’s most famous nightclub impresarios, having owned deeply imaginative and influential N.Y.C. hot spots including Limelight, Tunnel, Club USA, and Palladium during his 30-year career.

The one-time millionaire’s very public fall has been well documented in both print and film. To recap: New York police and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) pursued Gatien relentlessly in a 1996 federal investigation that attempted to directly link him with the sale of street drugs, particularly ecstasy, in his clubs. Gatien was acquitted, and then later arrested on tax-evasion charges, to which he pled guilty.

Once in Toronto, Gatien—later joined by wife Alessandra and their son Xander—was interested in exploring a boutique-hotel concept. He tells me during a recent phone interview that a RioCan representative approached him in a park, during a dog walk, in the fall of 2005, and requested that Gatien pay a visit to 126 John.

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1980s, After-hours, Disco, Electro, Freestyle, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave

Then & Now: Club Z

September 23, 2014
Club Z GTO ___ h4vs2vz3-970x649

Anything could happen at Club Z. Photos courtesy of INK Entertainment.

Article originally published February 16, 2012 by The Grid online (

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.


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.

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1980s, After-hours, Alternative, Dance Music, Electro, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave

Then & Now: Twilight Zone

September 16, 2014
The Twilight Zone GTO ___ img001-970x660

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.


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.

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