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 (thegridto.com).
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.
BY: DENISE BENSON
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.
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.
BY: DENISE 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…
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.
BY: DENISE 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 Copa, Boom Boom Room, and Go-Go, brought his vision to the project—and was Limelight’s guiding light for eight of its 10 years.
Maria Del Mar (left), Al Jourgensen of Ministry, Ogre of Skinny Puppy and Chris Sheppard backstage at RPM. Photo courtesy of Sheppard.
Article originally published July 26, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
We revisit the club that brought nightlife to the deepest edge of downtown, welcomed legends like the Ramones and Beastie Boys, and transformed resident DJ Chris Sheppard into a globe-trotting superstar.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: RPM, 132 Queens Quay East
Years in operation: 1985-1995
History: Before the mid-1980s, the bottom of Jarvis Street, along Queens Quay, was not a clubbing destination. Sure, people had been known to party at Jackie’s, a nightclub space created within the Hilton Hotel at Harbour Square (now the Westin Harbour Castle), and things at Captain John’s could get rowdy on occasion, but the area was far less traveled than it is today.
In 1984, brothers Albert and Tony Assoon built on the success of their popular Richmond Street afterhours club, Twilight Zone, and opened Fresh Restaurant and Nightclub at 132 Queens Quay St. E. Here, they laid the foundations for an entertainment complex that they would not be able to fully realize. Less than two years after Fresh had opened, the Assoons no longer held claim to the business. (Albert Assoon has told me directly that they were forced out while others have stated the demand note on the Assoons’ loan was called in and could not immediately be paid in full.)
What this legal and financial tussle makes clear is that the huge converted warehouse building at 132 Queens Quay E. had already become a coveted nightclub spot. A week after its doors were chained, a crew of people largely associated with Yorkville hotspot The Copa (including Martin Arts and Neil Vosburgh), along with artist/entrepreneur Murray Ball, were the new owners.
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.
BY: DENISE 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.
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.
BY: DENISE 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.