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…
On the dancefloor at Boa Redux. Photo courtesy of Carey Britt.
Article originally published June 10, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
In the 1990s, Boa Café was one the city’s busiest late night hangouts; in the mid-2000s, its second incarnation –a much larger, full-blown dance club– was hailed as the best-sounding. But with high expenses and no liquor licence, the party couldn’t last for long.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Boa Redux, 270 Spadina Ave.
Years in operation: 2003–2005
History: In an earlier edition of Then & Now, we explored the story of Rony Hitti’s 1990s Yorkville hotspot, Boa Café. By the time Hitti closed the Café in 1998, he owned a number of other fine-dining establishments, including Brasserie Zola and Winston’s. A few years later, he closed the book on his life as a restaurateur, keen instead to open a large underground dance club, which had been a dream for decades. Hitti would soon bring Boa’s name to a new generation by creating an after-hours venue of a much different nature than its predecessor.
“Boa Redux came out of my desire to have a house club in Toronto similar to Montreal’s Stereo,” he begins.
Hitti spent two years searching for the right location. A real-estate agent took him to 270 Spadina Ave., former home of a rundown porn theatre. At 16,000 square feet, with soaring ceilings and multiple levels, the space had great potential.
A big staircase dominated the room, its large steps each allowing a view of the entire area. A separate lounge space would be built on the lowest level, also to serve as the club’s entrance. There was an existing stage, later to be utilized both for dancing and late-night performances. In total, Boa would have a legal capacity of more than 1,300 people, an ideal size for a club purpose-built to feature some of the globe’s top underground DJs in a city that continued to have a thriving late-night scene in its post-rave years.
Photo of David Morales and Tony Assoon in the Zone DJ booth courtesy of Albert Assoon.
Article originally published October 5, 2011 by The Grid online. It was second in the series. Given that Then & Now articles later grew in length and number of participants, the Twilight Zone will be revisited in more detail for the T&N book.
In this instalment of Then & Now, Denise Benson looks back at the legacy of trailblazing ‘80s nightclub The Twilight Zone, which brought diverse crowds and sounds to The Entertainment District long before such a designation even existed.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Twilight Zone, 185 Richmond St. W.
Years in operation: 1980-1989
Why it was important: Long before the Entertainment District was awash in condos, clubs and restaurants—back when the area was still largely non-residential and known as the Garment District—four brothers and two close friends opened a venue that was to forever alter this city’s danceclub nightscape. In January of 1980, David, Albert, Tony and Michael Assoon—along with Luis Collaco and Bromely Vassell, co-owners until 1983—took Toronto to the Twilight Zone, a magical late-night place where the mix of people was just as eclectic as the music itself. The Twilight Zone embraced the collage of sounds that came to define the 1980s, as local and international DJs played disco, funk, electro, early hip-hop, new wave, freestyle, house and techno over the years, and on an infamously state-of-the-art sound system designed by New York’s Richard Long (pictured at left below with his creation alongside associate Roger Goodman). The Zone was the place to be, with large, diverse crowds dancing until morning week after week.