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23 Hop

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…

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.

Continue Reading…

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 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.


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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1990s, After-hours, Alternative, Dance Music, House, Rave, Techno

Then & Now: OZ, The Nightclub

September 20, 2014
OZ, The Nightclub GTO ___ 77-970x642

Photo inside OZ, courtesy of Luke Dalinda.

Article originally published November 2, 2011 by The Grid online (

In this instalment of her nightclub-history series Then & Now, Denise Benson looks back at a mid-’90s raver mainstay that was so popular, it inspired a TV show.


Club: OZ, The Nightclub, 15-19 Mercer Street

Years in operation: 1993-1997

History: Previously known as Factory Nightclub, an early home to techno in Toronto, 15 Mercer Street was reborn as OZ, The Nightclub in March of 1993. Factory founder Skot Fraser partnered with Americans Jim Pici and Mike Hamilton to open the new fantasyland, with input from key event producers including DJ Iain, promoter James Kekanovich and Steve Ireson, a former manager at the Ballinger brothers’ influential club Go-Go who would soon become a core manager at OZ.

OZ attracted large enough crowds that it soon grew to include a lounge on its second floor and, after that, it expanded into 19 Mercer Street, where the “Emerald City” VIP area was built. By then, OZ contained three separate dancefloors spread across 20,000 square feet, giving it a capacity of roughly 1,200 people.

Continue Reading…

1990s, After-hours, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, House, Rave, Techno

Then & Now: 23 Hop

September 17, 2014
23 Hop GTO ___ hop1

Photo of 23 Hop hallway by Chris “Space” Gray.


Article originally published October 18, 2011 by The Grid online. It was third in the series. Given that Then & Now articles later grew in length and number of participants, the story of 23 Hop will be explored in more detail for the T&N book.

In the latest instalment of her nightclub-history series, Denise Benson revisits a dingy, graffiti-covered venue that had no signage and minimal lighting, but proved to be ground zero for Toronto’s early ‘90s rave scene.


Club: 23 Hop, 318 Richmond St. W.

Years in operation: 1990-1995

Why it was important: Like the Twilight Zone, 23 Hop housed a new musical vision in a part of town then filled with more empty warehouses than clubs. Key to the genesis of Toronto’s rave scene, the venue originally operated as an all-ages club owned by Wesley Thuro, who would go on to open The Bovine Sex Club (with Chris Sheppard and Darryl Fine) in 1991 and now defunct Annex barbecue joint Cluck, Grunt & Low in 2007.

Continue Reading…