Browsing Tag

DJ Iain McPherson

1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Electronic, House, Industrial, Rave, Rock

Then & Now: Empire Dancebar

December 4, 2014
Empire GTO ___ 525441edbf581-Empire-Opening-of-Psych-Wed

The Empire crew is decked out and ready to dig Psychedelic Wednesdays. Photo courtesy of Michelle Fabry.


Article originally published October 8, 2013 by The Grid online (

This edition of Denise Benson’s Toronto-nightlife history series tells the story of how a local gay-community landmark was reborn in the late ’80s as a cutting-edge alternative club where you could dance to acid-rock and acid-house alike.


Club: Empire Dancebar, 488A Yonge

Years in operation: 1988-1992

History: In a city where history is so often obliterated or obscured to make way for the new, there’s something comforting about the old clock tower still found atop 484-488 Yonge. It was built in 1870, as part of the original Toronto Fire Hall No. 3, which remained at the address until its move around the corner, to Grosvenor Street, in 1929.

After the hall closed on Yonge, that building was occupied by retail businesses until the St. Charles Tavern took root in 1951. By the early 1960s, the St. Charles was known to be a gay bar. It, along with the nearby Parkside Tavern, became a significant gathering spot that would help hasten the development of queer social life anchored around Yonge during the 1970s. The St. Charles, while also remembered as the focus of homophobic attacks (especially at Halloween), remains one of this city’s best-known gay bars of all time. A number of discos opened above it over the years, with the most popular being The Maygay and Charly’s. A club called Y-Not also operated upstairs in the mid 1980s. By 1987, following years of neglect, the St. Charles was a shadow of its former self and closed.

A year later, the upper level would re-open as Empire Dancebar, a versatile venue dreamed up by friends Dave Craig and Michael Marier. As a teen, Craig had been an MC and DJ in TKO Sound Crew, a popular group that was eventually inducted into the Stylus Awards Hall of Fame in 2008. Craig left TKO to join a new crew, Romantic Sounds, which was started by Marier. Together, they produced events including The House, a weekly underground jam held at the Party Centre at Church and Shuter. As their crowds increased each week, so too did the building manager’s rent demands.

“Eventually Mike’s dad, Bob, suggested that we should get our own space, and he funded the creation of Empire with a quarter-of-a-million dollar investment,” says Craig.

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1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Disco, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: Stilife

November 17, 2014
Stilife GTO ___ stilife

Stilife interior. Photo courtesy of INK Entertainment.


Article originally published January 28, 2013 by The Grid online (

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.


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.

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1970s, 1980s, Dance Music, Disco, Funk, New Wave, Pop

Then & Now: Sparkles

November 3, 2014

All photos in the gallery courtesy of the CN Tower Archives.


Article originally published December 21, 2012 by The Grid online (

In this edition of Then & Now, we travel back three decades—and up 1,100 feet—to revisit the CN Tower’s beloved in-house discotheque.


Club: Sparkles, 301 Front St. W.

Years in operation: 1979-1991

History: When the construction of Toronto’s iconic CN Tower began in February of 1973, few would have imagined it filled with strobe lights and spandex. The Canadian National Railroad’s Tower would be an impressive engineering feat, serving as both tourist attraction and a communications boon for radio and television broadcasters seeking a taller building on which to place transmitters for stronger signals.

The CN Tower opened to the public in June 26, 1976. At that time, the surrounding area was far from dense or residential. The north side of Front Street was largely parking lots, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre had not been built, nor had the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). In fact, one accessed the Tower by walking through a pedestrian bridge—starting from where Rogers Centre is now—that crossed over sets of train tracks. There was a reflecting pool at the Tower’s base, and fields nearby.

In 1979, to coincide with the Tower’s third anniversary, one-third of the indoor observation level was developed into a discothèque. The goal was to attract diverse evening crowds to this floor, which lay below the Tower’s rotating 360 Restaurant and above the outdoor observation deck.

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1990s, 2000s, Alternative, Dance Music, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, House, Industrial, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Limelight

October 7, 2014
Lungley Limelight_03_28a

Limelight dancefloor. Photo by Steven Lungley. All rights reserved.


Article originally published July 27, 2012 by The Grid online (

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.


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 CopaBoom Boom Room, and Go-Go, brought his vision to the project—and was Limelight’s guiding light for eight of its 10 years.

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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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1980s, Alternative, Dance Music, Disco, Freestyle, Funk, House, Live Music, New Wave, Reggae, Rock

Then & Now: The Copa

September 23, 2014
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Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.


Article originally published March 15, 2012 by The Grid online (

Denise Benson looks back at the massive, corporate-owned Yorkville spot that helped create Toronto’s big-ticket nightclub experience in the early 1980s.


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.

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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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1980s, Alternative, Dance Music, Goth, Industrial, New Wave, Punk

Then & Now: Nuts & Bolts

September 22, 2014
Drag legend Divine at Nuts & Bolts, March 1987. With Nuts & Bolts regulars Lynette and Sherri.

Divine (centre) with Nuts & Bolts regulars Lynette and Sherri, 1987. Photo courtesy of David Heymes.

Article originally published December 14, 2011 by The Grid online. Admittedly, it was difficult to research this club’s earliest years and contributors. As a result, a number of  details originally included were inaccurate or incomplete, as pointed out in comments from a number of Grid readers. Some details have been updated as a result. This story will be further researched and developed for the Then & Now book.

In the latest instalment of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson takes us back to a time when the edge of the Ryerson campus served as a breeding ground for Toronto’s alternative-scene explosion.


Club: Nuts & Bolts, 277 Victoria St.

Years of operation: 1980-1988 [Original article stated 1977 - 1988]

Nuts & Bolts logo

History: In many ways, fabled alternative bar Nuts & Bolts was one of Toronto’s most unlikely dance-club success stories. Housed in the basement of a six-storey office building on the edge of Ryerson University’s campus, Nuts & Bolts was owned by Frank Cutajar, also proprietor of the All-Star Eatery, located on the ground floor of the same building.

According to all I spoke with and based on my own experiences—my first professional DJ gigs in Toronto were at Cutajar’s gay/alt club Showbiz, located around the corner, upstairs at 3 Gould St.—Frank was far from cutting-edge or visionary in his approach to running clubs. But he hired wisely.

It seems Nuts & Bolts’ first manager, Ed Jandrisits, was heavily responsible for the bar’s post-punk lean as he, in turn, hired a new-wave-loving staff. Jandrisits set the tone for the venue’s family vibe, with a great number of its bartenders, DJs and other staff—including infamous doorman Henry, who greeted people as they made their way down a dark staircase and through double metal doors—remaining at the club for years, often in a variety of jobs.

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1990s, After-hours, Alternative, Dance Music, House, Rave, Techno

Then & Now: OZ, The Nightclub

September 20, 2014
OZ, The Nightclub GTO ___ 77-970x642

Photo inside OZ, courtesy of Luke Dalinda.

Article originally published November 2, 2011 by The Grid online (

In this instalment of her nightclub-history series Then & Now, Denise Benson looks back at a mid-’90s raver mainstay that was so popular, it inspired a TV show.


Club: OZ, The Nightclub, 15-19 Mercer Street

Years in operation: 1993-1997

History: Previously known as Factory Nightclub, an early home to techno in Toronto, 15 Mercer Street was reborn as OZ, The Nightclub in March of 1993. Factory founder Skot Fraser partnered with Americans Jim Pici and Mike Hamilton to open the new fantasyland, with input from key event producers including DJ Iain, promoter James Kekanovich and Steve Ireson, a former manager at the Ballinger brothers’ influential club Go-Go who would soon become a core manager at OZ.

OZ attracted large enough crowds that it soon grew to include a lounge on its second floor and, after that, it expanded into 19 Mercer Street, where the “Emerald City” VIP area was built. By then, OZ contained three separate dancefloors spread across 20,000 square feet, giving it a capacity of roughly 1,200 people.

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