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.
By: DENISE BENSON
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…
Allan Bell a.k.a. Phyllis (left) with Sister Rock-On at David’s. Photo courtesy of Wendy Peacock.
Article originally published March 26, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
In its brief lifespan, this ‘70s hotspot served as both a gay disco and punk-rock haven—before it all ended in a mysterious fire and murder.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Club David’s, 16 Phipps
Years in operation: 1975-1977
History: The allure that the Yonge and St. Joseph area once held for creatures of the night has been detailed in a number of previous Then & Now pieces, including those about early 1980s venues Voodoo and Club Z. Here, we visit a prior decade to travel a short distance south, down a once-existing strip of the St. Nicholas alleyway, to a barely-there street called Phipps.
Moving and storage company Rawlinson Cartage constructed the building at 16 Phipps in the late 1890s. A small tunnel, thought to once hold a conveyor belt, connected it to the building directly north, at 11A St. Joseph. As with a number of neighbouring structures, it was also erected by Rawlinson.
In the early 1970s, 11A St. Joseph was home to popular all-ages gay male dance club The Manatee. Nearby Yonge Street bars The Parkside Tavern and St. Charles Tavern were gay hotspots, as was intimate Isabella Street disco Mrs. Knights.
Club David’s added new possibilities to the mix when Jay Cochrane and Sandy Leblanc opened it in the spring of 1975.
Stilife interior. Photo courtesy of INK Entertainment.
Article originally published January 28, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
After cutting his teeth in nightlife as owner of Club Z on St. Joseph, Charles Khabouth relocated to open this dramatically designed destination spot that kick-started the development of Toronto’s Entertainment District.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Stilife, 217 Richmond W.
Years in operation: 1987–1995
History: Built in the 1920s, the six-storey brick building on the southwest corner of Richmond and Duncan Streets exemplifies the major changes experienced by this Toronto neighbourhood as it morphed from Garment to Entertainment District.
The once heavily industrial area, located south of Queen and bordered by University to the east and Spadina to the west, was occupied by factories, warehouses and daytime workers for the better part of the 20th century. By the 1970s, most of the factories had closed, and many of the buildings lay empty. It was only after the opening of the SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre) in 1989 that municipal politicians began to amend zoning laws in order to encourage development in the region.
But in the 1980s, before these sweeping changes took place, the former Garment District was a land of opportunity.
Ruckus tears up Turbo. Photo by Jay Futronic.
Article originally published September 24, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
360 Adelaide St. W. has had many incarnations over its 90-year-plus existence, but it is best remembered as the home of Toronto’s burgeoning drum ‘n’ bass scene in the early 2000s.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Turbo Niteclub, 360 Adelaide W.
Years in operation: 2000-2003
History: Built around 1920, the six-storey red brick office building at 360 Adelaide St. W. has been home to multiple dance clubs, many of them owned and operated by Vincent Donohoe. He’d opened Top 40 venue Denile at the address in 1997, a time when the Entertainment District was synonymous with nightclubs, but Donohoe was no newbie. He’d already helped finance Charles Khabouth’s first two clubs in the 1980s—Club Z at 11A St. Joseph and Stilife on Richmond—and run other businesses.
“Although Charles Khabouth never seems to want to let people know, I was a full partner in Club Z and the money behind Stilife,” writes Donohoe in an email. “He was broke when I met him, and at one time I owned two thirds of Club Z. I also helped put together Orchid Nightclub [on Richmond Street], and was general manager for their first three years, until I built Denile.”
Donohoe’s one-floor Denile later morphed into Jet Nightclub, a hybrid venue that held successful commercial nights, and was regularly rented out by rave production companies like Ritual, Empire, and Lifeforce Industries for much more underground, after-hours events.
Club Focus bouncer Marc Kyriacou. Photo courtesy of Johnbronski.
Article originally published February 29, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
Denise Benson looks back at the all-ages venue that first introduced many of today’s top nightlife-industry players to the Toronto dance scene—and also served as a breeding ground for infamous ‘80s street gang The Untouchables.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Club Focus, 14 Hagerman
Years in operation: 1986-1989
History: Club Focus was housed in a nondescript, two-storey building that would have been constructed during the decades (1870-1960) when Toronto’s original Chinatown was centered near the corner of Elizabeth and Louisa. The one-block-stretch that runs parallel to the north end of City Hall, from Elizabeth to Bay, was later renamed Hagerman.
In the 1950s, many buildings in this still-industrial area—with the original City Hall and Eaton’s Annex main store nearby—were obtained by the city for the construction of Nathan Phillips Square and a new City Hall, which opened in 1965 and spurred nearby development. The Eaton Centre was built two blocks away, on the east side of Bay, in the late ’70s.
While Focus opened upstairs at 14 Hagerman as an unlicensed, all-ages dance club near the close of 1986, the site had already been a social hub. As Hagerman Hall, it had hosted community dances (including those of pioneering gay organization Community Homophile Association of Toronto, a.k.a. CHAT, in the very early ’70s) and a karate club; the space was known as Club Kongos in the early/mid ’80s.
Anything could happen at Club Z. Photos courtesy of INK Entertainment.
Article originally published February 16, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
In this instalment of her ongoing nightlife-history series, Denise Benson looks back at the first club creation of Toronto nightlife magnate Charles Khabouth. At just 22 years old, he opened Club Z in 1984, but its groundbreaking legacy lives on to this day.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Club Z, 11A St. Joseph Street
Years in operation: 1984-1989
History: Tracing the history of this city’s nightlife tells us much about its physical transformation and urban development. Nowhere is this more obvious than at the corner of Yonge and St. Joseph. Here, we’ve recently seen a few significant buildings largely demolished as part of their ongoing metamorphosis into Five Condos.
I had often wondered about the physical similarities between the original red brick buildings at 610 Yonge, 5 and 11 St. Joseph, and 15 St. Nicholas, but only recently noticed the plaque on 11’s easterly side. It turns out that moving and storage company Rawlinson Cartage built all of them, with the warehouse space of 11 St. Joseph constructed between 1895 and 1898.
Gay Torontonians who socialized in the 1970s and early ‘80s will remember 11A St. Joseph as popular all-ages discotheque Club Manatee, a three-level spot where the DJ booth was in the bow of a boat hanging above the crowd.
In September of 1984, directly after the Manatee’s closing, a 22-year-old Charles Khabouth debuted as a nightlife entrepreneur by opening Club Z in that very location. Now known as the CEO of INK Entertainment, whose many impressive properties include The Guvernment, La Société Bistro and the Bisha hotel/condo project, Khabouth started with just $30,000 and a desire to fuse his love of music, fashion and dance.