Browsing Tag

Denise Benson

1990s, Breaks, Disco, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, Dub, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Live Music, Rave, Reggae, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: We’ave

December 8, 2014
Weave mural

We’ave wall mural. Photo by Merri Schwartz, courtesy of Dan Snaith.


Article originally published December 20, 2013 by The Grid online (

In the late 1990s, this quirky three-storey Dundas West venue provided a homebase for emergent female DJs and was a hotbed for techno, drum ‘n’ bass and all kinds of experimentation. It also helped launch the careers of Caribou, Peaches, and future Azari & III member Christian Newhook.


Club: We’ave, 330 Dundas St. W.

Years in operation: 1997–2000

History: There is a row of heritage properties along Dundas West, between McCaul and Beverley Streets and directly opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario, that tend to catch the eye. Built in the late 19th century as homes, the properties at 312–356 Dundas West gained heritage status in 1973, and now host a mix of galleries, cafés, and other businesses.

The building at number 330 stands out for its shape, colour, and newness. An infill property that sits snugly between number 326 (the Howard Bryant House) and 334 (the Richard Chadd House), 330 is the relatively modern two-and-a-half-storey commercial building that replaced one of the original detached houses. It’s a quirky build, but not entirely out of place with OCAD University right around the corner.

The address opened as We’ave, an arts and music complex, in March of 1997. Its original general manager, Sherri Ranger, had envisioned the venue as an artists’ co-op.

“We’ave stood for ‘We Have,’ which was Sherri’s concept,” explains musician and DJ Barbi Castelvi, hired in April ’97 as its live-music booker and publicist.

“They were having some parties, but there was no liquor licence or restaurant yet,” Castelvi explains in an email interview. “It was literally a drop-in artist co-op. [Experimental jazz ensemble] GUH already had a residency; they were Sherri’s friends. There were also artist workshops, curated by Sherri.”

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1990s, 2000s, Breaks, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, Dub, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Jazz, Live Music, Reggae, Rock

Then & Now: Gypsy Co-op

November 24, 2014
Gypsy Co-op Gio 1

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 (

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.


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.

Marcus O’Hara’s Squeeze Club pre-dated Gypsy at 817 Queen West. Photo courtesy Vintage Toronto.

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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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2000s, Breaks, Electronic, Hip-Hop, House, Rave, Techno

Then & Now: Element Bar

September 24, 2014
Ann as DJ Valentines

AnnMarie McCullough a.k.a. DJ Amtrak at Element. Photo courtesy of her.


Article originally published April 26, 2012 by The Grid online (

As Clubland boomed at the turn of the millennium, this beloved Queen West space provided a big-room experience in an intimate, underground atmosphere—but it ultimately became a victim of its own success.


Club: Element Bar, 553 Queen W.

Years in operation: 1999-2004

History: In the late 1990s, Toronto’s rave and house music scenes were booming. Raves attracted audiences of multiple thousands while even licensed clubs catering to underground tastes tended to hold at least 800. The Entertainment District was littered with venues—most of them commercial and unadventurous—while the College and Ossington strips had not yet developed into hotspots for small to mid-sized venues.

In this environment, a group of friends rented a decidedly intimate space on Queen, between Spadina and Bathurst, that had been home to popular pool hall Behind the Eight Ball and, briefly, 24/7 Billiards. The address was also known for after-hours parties on its top floor, dubbed Zodiac.

Tony Mutch, Marcus Boekelman, and their silent partner Patrik Xuereb all met in high school. By their late 20s, Boekelman and Mutch had both produced parties, with Boekelman having experienced Ibiza and London and promoted events in Toronto featuring electronic dance-music stars like Paul Oakenfold.

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1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Dance Music, Electronic, Industrial, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Boom Boom Room

September 23, 2014
Boom cage dancers Mikey (far left) and friends. Photo courtesy of Sofia Weber.

Boom cage dancers Mikey (far left) and friends. Photo courtesy of Sofia Weber.

Article originally published February 1, 2012 by The Grid online (

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.


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.

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