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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.

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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.

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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…

1990s, 2000s, Alternative, Dance Music, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, House, Industrial, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Limelight

October 7, 2014
Lungley Limelight_03_28a

Limelight dancefloor. Photo by Steven Lungley. All rights reserved.

 

Article originally published July 27, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

As the Entertainment District grew more sophisticated in the 1990s, this proudly shabby and unpretentious nightclub drew crowds by the thousands each week to a sleepy stretch of Adelaide.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Limelight, 250 Adelaide St. W.

Years in operation: 1993-2003

History: Before the Entertainment District became synonymous with dance clubs, the well-worn brick building at 250 Adelaide St. W. was home to businesses including a print shop and Old Favorites Books.

Located near the corner of Duncan, the building was spotted by businessman Zisi Konstantinou, who saw its potential as a club space. Richmond Street east of Spadina was already attracting large weekend crowds in the early 1990s, thanks to venues like Charles Khabouth’s pioneering Stilife and the Ballinger brothers’ hotspot Go-Go, which later became Whiskey Saigon. Adelaide east of Spadina was not yet a dancer’s destination.

Konstantinou’s next smart move was to hire Boris Khaimovich as general manager of his club-to-be. Khaimovich—who’d worked the door and managed at Toronto clubs including The CopaBoom Boom Room, and Go-Go, brought his vision to the project—and was Limelight’s guiding light for eight of its 10 years.

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1990s, After-hours, Alternative, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, House, Industrial, New Wave, Punk, Rave, Rock, Ska, Techno

Then & Now: Catch 22

September 25, 2014
Catch 22 Marilyn Manson outside

Marilyn Manson outside of Catch 22, circa mid-1990s. Photo courtesy of Andy Gfy.

 

Article originally published by The Grid online (The GridTO.com) on May 24, 2012.

In the early ‘90s, alternative rock was exploding overground, with the rave scene coming up right behind it. This beloved Adelaide Street club bridged these two movements together in a legitimate, licensed space.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Catch 22 Niteclub, 379 Adelaide W.

Years in operation: 1989-1997

History: While a five-year-lifespan tends to be a decent run for nightclubs in this city, some strike a nerve and manage to go it longer, thanks to an ever-evolving community of supporters. Catch 22 was such a venue.

Located on Adelaide near the corner of Spadina, Catch was slightly off the beaten path as it lay on the edges of the then-developing club district and was a few minutes’ walk south from Queen West. It was opened in November of 1989 by a group of friends—with Pat Violo, Lex van Erem, and Gio Cristiano at the core—in a former storage space on the building’s lowest level.

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1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Dance Music, Electronic, Industrial, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Boom Boom Room

September 23, 2014
Boom cage dancers Mikey (far left) and friends. Photo courtesy of Sofia Weber.

Boom cage dancers Mikey (far left) and friends. Photo courtesy of Sofia Weber.

Article originally published February 1, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

In this instalment of her ongoing nightlife-history series, Denise Benson looks back at the notoriously decadent late-’80s dance club that brought metalheads and rap fans together, installed a hot tub and cages on the dancefloor, and effectively brought the “queer” to Queen West.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Boom Boom Room, 650 ½ Queen St. W.

Years in operation: 1988-1993

History: One cannot discuss this city’s nightlife history at any length without mention of the brothers Ballinger: Lon, Stephen, Douglas and Peter. The self-described “Rock ‘n’ Roll Farmers” from Dundalk, Ontario ruled the roost in mid-to-late-1980s Toronto. In 1986, they converted the former Holiday Tavern at Queen and Bathurst into The Big Bop, a multi-floor rock and dance club that packed in the student crowd. Its success paved the way for future Ballinger club endeavours, including Go-Go, Rockit and, at the northeast corner of Queen and Palmerston, Boom Boom Room.

Previously, 650 ½ Queen West was home, at street level, to live blues venue The Pine Tree Tavern, with a hotel above. In 1988, the Ballingers bought and renovated the building, turning the upstairs into Hotel Heartbreak—a hotel-cum-rooming house announced by a big, bold neon sign—and the downstairs into a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Danceteria” that was far more intimate and edgy than their other club efforts.

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1990s, After-hours, Alternative, Dance Music, Hip-Hop, House, Industrial, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Klub Max

September 22, 2014
Klub Max dancefloor, 1994.

Klub Max dancefloor circa 1994. Photo by Steven Lungley. All rights reserved.

 

Article originally published January 19, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

Denise Benson revisits the three-storey super-club that was at the epicentre of Toronto’s early ‘90s Entertainment District explosion.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Klub Max, 52 Peter (now 56 Blue Jays Way)

Years in operation: 1990-1994

History: This is a tale of a changing Toronto. It tells the story of an historic area in transition, mere years before it came to serve as the meeting point for the touristy and the trendy. Also at its centre is a man who became one of this city’s most successful nightlife entrepreneurs, as well as a number of our most recognized DJs.

52 Peter Street was once the George Crookshank House. Built in the 1830s, it’s one of the street’s oldest buildings and was designated an historic site under the Ontario Heritage Act. But its beautiful brick frontage would be obscured by modern smoked glass and signage when Nick Di Donato and his Liberty Entertainment Group renovated it extensively at the end of the 1980s to open, at first, a single-level P.M. Toronto sports bar and restaurant.

In 1990, Di Donato and colleague Angelo Belluz developed the property into the area’s first full-on dance club—a three-floor funhouse named Klub Max. It took vision—and nerve—to open a large club there at the time.

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1980s, Alternative, Dance Music, Goth, Industrial, New Wave, Punk

Then & Now: Nuts & Bolts

September 22, 2014
Drag legend Divine at Nuts & Bolts, March 1987. With Nuts & Bolts regulars Lynette and Sherri.

Divine (centre) with Nuts & Bolts regulars Lynette and Sherri, 1987. Photo courtesy of David Heymes.

Article originally published December 14, 2011 by The Grid online. Admittedly, it was difficult to research this club’s earliest years and contributors. As a result, a number of  details originally included were inaccurate or incomplete, as pointed out in comments from a number of Grid readers. Some details have been updated as a result. This story will be further researched and developed for the Then & Now book.

In the latest instalment of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson takes us back to a time when the edge of the Ryerson campus served as a breeding ground for Toronto’s alternative-scene explosion.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Nuts & Bolts, 277 Victoria St.

Years of operation: 1980-1988 [Original article stated 1977 - 1988]

Nuts & Bolts logo

History: In many ways, fabled alternative bar Nuts & Bolts was one of Toronto’s most unlikely dance-club success stories. Housed in the basement of a six-storey office building on the edge of Ryerson University’s campus, Nuts & Bolts was owned by Frank Cutajar, also proprietor of the All-Star Eatery, located on the ground floor of the same building.

According to all I spoke with and based on my own experiences—my first professional DJ gigs in Toronto were at Cutajar’s gay/alt club Showbiz, located around the corner, upstairs at 3 Gould St.—Frank was far from cutting-edge or visionary in his approach to running clubs. But he hired wisely.

It seems Nuts & Bolts’ first manager, Ed Jandrisits, was heavily responsible for the bar’s post-punk lean as he, in turn, hired a new-wave-loving staff. Jandrisits set the tone for the venue’s family vibe, with a great number of its bartenders, DJs and other staff—including infamous doorman Henry, who greeted people as they made their way down a dark staircase and through double metal doors—remaining at the club for years, often in a variety of jobs.

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