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.
The Diamond Club dancefloor. This and all photos in gallery by Gokche Erkan. All rights reserved.
Article originally published September 12. 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
We revisit the crown jewel of late-‘80s Toronto nightlife, where everyone from house enthusiasts to members of Pink Floyd felt right at home.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: The Diamond Club, 410 Sherbourne St.
Years in operation: 1984-1991
History: While Torontonians have known 410 Sherbourne as a dance club and concert venue for almost three decades, the building was once home to music and theatrics of a different sort. Starting in the 1950s, the German-Canadian Club Harmonie offered everything from community gatherings to oom-pah bands to ballroom dancing at the address.
In the early 1980s, New Yorker Pat Kenny entered the picture. At the time, Kenny owned or co-owned three Manhattan clubs: Greenwich Village rock spots The Bitter End and Kenny’s Castaways (now run by his son), and larger dance club and concert venue The Cat Club.
“Pat was called ‘The Bard of Bleeker Street’ because he was a larger-than-life character, and extremely well known in New York,” says Toronto club and music-industry veteran Randy Charlton, who worked for Kenny. “He helped break the careers of a lot of struggling young artists in the 1960s into the ’70s, like Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Mark Knopfler before Dire Straits was well known.”
Though based in New York, Kenny took an interest in Toronto. Friends involved in The Village Gate nightclub and dinner theatre wanted to open an offshoot location here; Kenny opened it at 410 Sherbourne, with Club Harmonie still holding court in a small space within the building. After a few unsuccessful productions, the dinner theatre folded, and Kenny rented the entire building to open a nightclub.
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.