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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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1980s, 1990s, 2000s, African, Blues, Dub, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Latin, Live Music, Reggae, Ska, Soul

Then & Now: BamBoo

December 3, 2014

Take a tour of the BamBoo through the gallery above. All photos noted as courtesy of Patti Habib are copyright the Estate of Richard O’Brien and the BamBoo.


Article originally published July 16, 2013 by The Grid online (

Denise Benson revisits the legendary restaurant and club that served as an island oasis amid a rapidly transforming Queen West strip.


Club: BamBoo, 312 Queen St. W.

Years in operation: 1983-2002

History: Like the best of clubs, Toronto’s BamBoo was produced out of friendships, late-night revelry, and the desire to create a unique experience for a core community. The path that co-owners Richard O’Brien and Patti Habib took to get there was filled with fateful turns.

Both were in media and loved the nightlife: O’Brien had been a freelance journalist and live-music booker in California before returning to Toronto where he worked for TVOntario and later CBC, while Habib was a story producer for CBC Radio’s As It Happens. In the late 1970s, O’Brien, also known to friends as Ricci Moderne, partnered with infamous bon vivant Marcus O’Hara to produce annual St. Patrick’s Day parties, dubbed the Martian Awareness Ball (2013 marked its 35th anniversary), with Habib joining them a few years in.

Not long after, the trio—along with a group of friends that also included Dan Aykroyd, publicist Joanne Smale, John Ball, and Roots co-founder Michael Budman—put together an extensive business proposal to re-open The Embassy Tavern, a 1960s Yorkville bar and live-music venue. The plans did not come to fruition. Instead, in 1980, O’Brien and Habib launched the MBC boozecan in what had been her third-floor loft at the corner of Liberty and Jefferson.

“I had to move out,” laughs Habib during a lengthy phone chat. “Richard brought in all his records, and it became an after-hours club opened Mondays—a theatre night—and Thursdays only.”

For two years, the duo drew crowds to this largely deserted part of town we now know as Liberty Village. They booked bands that ranged from reggae to Rough Trade, from a newly formed Parachute Club to soul man Junior Walker. Jamaican patties were the only food served. Income earned at the door was hidden in record covers, and put aside with larger goals in mind.

Habib and O’Brien were also regulars at influential upstairs Queen West boozecan-cum-nightly-artist-hangout The Paper Door. As luck would have it, on an evening spent sitting on the venue’s back balcony, O’Brien looked down and spotted Wicker World, a shop at 312 Queen St. W. set back from the street. The location had been a laundry for years before, looked industrial, and piqued O’Brien’s curiosity. Not long after, he spotted a “For Lease” sign at the address, put down a deposit, and was given three months’ free rent in order to build his business.

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1990s, 2000s, Breaks, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, Dub, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Jazz, Live Music, Reggae, Rock

Then & Now: Gypsy Co-op

November 24, 2014
Gypsy Co-op Gio 1

DJ Gio Cristiano (far right) beside Gypsy co-owner Mike Borg and friends. Photo courtesy of Cristiano.


Article originally published April 18, 2013 by The Grid online (

Denise Benson revisits this influential Queen West resto-lounge that brought together bohos, bankers, artists and trendsetters for a menu that included good eats, DJed beats, a smorgasbord of live music, and a diverse cast of characters.


Club: Gypsy Co-op, 817 Queen West

Years in operation: 1995–2006

History: Though perhaps now difficult to imagine, in mid-1990s Toronto, it was still unusual for bar and restaurant owners to open sizable spots on Queen Street west of Bathurst. Trinity Bellwoods Park felt far-off, while Parkdale was not the trendy destination point it is today.

Still, evening social life on Queen was slowly moving westward. Boom Boom Room had run successfully for five years, Sanctuary had brought the goths to Queen and Palmerston, Squirly’s offered cheap nosh ‘til late, and Terroni opened its original location at 720 Queen West in 1992.

A pioneering address was 817 Queen Street West, near Claremont. In the late ‘80s, Marcus and Michael O’Hara opened the über-cool Squeeze Club there. The Squeeze was a combo restaurant, bar, art space, and billiards hall that soared at first, and struggled later. When the business went up for sale, the brothers Borg scored the location.

Marcus O'Hara's Squeeze Club pre-dated Gypsy at 817 Queen West. Photo courtesy Vintage Toronto.

Marcus O’Hara’s Squeeze Club pre-dated Gypsy at 817 Queen West. Photo courtesy Vintage Toronto.

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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.

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1970s, 1980s, All-ages, Blues, Jazz, Live Music, New Wave, Post-punk, Punk, Rock, Singer-songwriter

Then & Now: The Edge

October 27, 2014
The Edge GTO ___ The-Police-1979

The Police hang at The Edge in 1979 with Q107′s Gary Slaight (left) and Brian Master (third from left). Photo courtesy of Gary Topp.

Article originally published November 2, 2012 by The Grid online (

After punk exploded in the late ’70s, this infamous Gerrard Street new-wave mecca kept the fire burning into the ’80s—even if its many famous performers were in danger of getting doused by the overflowing upstairs toilets leaking onto the stage.


Club: The Edge, 70 Gerrard St. E.

Years in operation: 1979-1981

History: On the northeast corner of Gerrard and Church sits a modest three-floor building that has had—and housed—many lives. It is said to have once been the residence of Egerton (pronounced “Edge-erton”) Ryerson, a prominent Canadian educator who, in 1852, founded the Toronto Normal School at what is now Bond and Gould streets.

Ryerson University is named after him, as was Egerton’s Restaurant and Tavern, a student hangout and folk-music club that opened at 70 Gerrard St. E. in the early 1970s. Licensed as a “listening room” and required to sell food, Egerton’s was open seven days a week, sold cheap beer, and booked live performers like Stan Rogers.

“We lived in the shadow of The Riverboat [in Yorkville] and bigger clubs that had bigger stages and dance floors, like the El Mocambo, Midwich Cuckoo Tavern, and Jarvis House,” recalls Derek Andrews, a veteran Toronto live-music programmer who got his start in the industry as a dishwasher at Egerton’s in January 1974.

Andrews would continue at the location for almost eight years, working his way up to busboy, waiter, and general manager. He shares that Egerton’s had been owned by Warren Beamish, PC candidate for the Rosedale riding in 1974’s federal election, before it was acquired by Bernie Kamin and Harvey Hudes, partners in Mosport Park, among other projects. The pair brought in a young Ron Chapman as co-owner and managing operator.

Chapman and Andrews—who together would run the Nite Life management company which represented artists including songwriter Eddie “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” Schwartz, Paul Quarrington, and Ellen McIlwaine—would go on to book the likes of legendary funk drummer Bernard Purdie during Egerton’s later period.

But Chapman also had an eye on Toronto’s emerging underground. Late in 1978, he invited prescient concert promoters Gary Topp and Gary Cormier, together known as The Garys, to come book live music at Egerton’s.

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