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Fashion

1990s, After-hours, Dance Music, Disco, Funk, House, Latin, Soul

Then & Now: Boa Café

November 30, 2014
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Boa Cafe, as it appeared in the Oct. 1991 edition of Interior Design magazine. Photo courtesy of INK Entertainment.

 

Article originally published May 23, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

A special two-part edition of Denise Benson’s nightlife-history series begins with a trip back to the Yorkville venue that brought fine dining and club culture together—before going down in a hail of bullets.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Boa Café, 25 Bellair

Years in operation: 1989-1998

History: This is a tale of two interconnected yet vastly different Toronto venues, each influential in its own way. For this article, I will be focussing on the first, Boa Café; the story of its second incarnation, Boa Redux, will be told in the next edition of Then & Now.

At the story’s centre lies Rony Hitti.

“I grew up in a family of restaurateurs and hoteliers, and was supposed to be the banker in the family,” says Hitti, who would instead become owner-operator of both Boas.

Hitti dutifully studied business finance and politics at York University, but also DJed steadily during the 1980s. He played a variety of Midtown-area clubs, and started his own DJ company, dubbed Earthquake in reference to the powerful Sensurround sound system created for the 1974 film of the same name.

“It used to shake movie theatres, and I bought one. I did pretty much all of the dances at York with that system.”

Banking didn’t work out for Hitti at the time, nor did dishwashing at his father’s restaurant. Instead, he studied culinary arts in Switzerland for a year. Upon returning, Hitti brainstormed a business plan with Charles Khabouth; the two Lebanese-Canadians had become friends as Hitti spent much time at Khabouth’s trendsetting Stilife nightclub.

“Charles and I were really close. We hung out, and traveled together. On a trip to Montreal, we went to a place called Lola’s Paradise. Lola’s was fine dining with that really cool Montreal vibe. We thought Toronto could use something like it. Continue Reading…

1970s, 1980s, After-hours, Alternative, Goth, Industrial, Live Music, New Wave, Post-punk, Ska

Then & Now: Domino Klub

November 21, 2014

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.

BYDENISE 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…

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

Then & Now: Stilife

November 17, 2014
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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.

BYDENISE 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.

Continue Reading…

1980s, 1990s, All-ages, Alternative, Dance Music, Electronic, House, Live Music, New Wave, Punk, Rave, Rock

Then & Now: RPM

October 7, 2014
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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.

BYDENISE 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.

Continue Reading…

1990s, After-hours, Dance Music, Gay, House, Warehouse party

Then & Now: JOY

September 25, 2014
JOY GTO ___ Rommel-JOY

Resident JOY diva and host Rommel (right). Photo courtesy of John Wulff.

 

Article originally published June 7, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

In this edition of her nightclub-history series, Denise Benson revisits the most sexcess-ful, celeb-studded gay house club of the ‘90s.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: JOY, 16 Phipps

Years of operation: 1995-1997

History: The rapidly changing streets surrounding Toronto’s Yonge and St. Joseph intersection were once a mecca for adventurous late-night dancers. Some of the hub’s gay and after-hours history was explored in earlier Then & Now pieces about influential 1980s venues Voodoo and Club Z; now, we return during the ’90s, before the area was transformed by the massive condo development we see today.

The tiny Phipps Street is tucked in just north of Wellesley and south of St. Joseph, running east-west from St. Nicholas to Bay. In the mid-’70s, while big gay dance club The Manatee drew crowds to 11A St. Joseph, Club David’s brought gay revelers south down the alley, to 16 Phipps, where a gold rendition of Michelangelo’s David presided over the dancefloor. In the ’80s, David was out and mirrors were in as the building became new gay club Le Mystique.

Although it later housed a variety of warehouse parties, early raves and other one-off events, the building still featured some of Mystique’s décor when John Wulff and silent partners went to view 16 Phipps early in March of 1995. The former storehouse, complete with its old loading dock and a small tunnel that connected it to 11A St. Joseph (it’s thought a conveyor belt once ran between the two), was in rough shape.

Continue Reading…

1980s, After-hours, Disco, Freestyle, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Rock, Soul, Techno

Then & Now: Tazmanian Ballroom

September 24, 2014
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Tazmanian Ballroom advertisement, courtesy of Karen Young.

 

Article originally published March 30, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

A look back at the ‘80s east-end haunt that imported U.K. rave culture to Toronto, let dancers openly shag on the third floor, and gave a young Gerard Butler his first gig as a doorman.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Tazmanian Ballroom, 99-101 Jarvis

Years in operation: 1987-1990

History: Just as true characters have frequented Toronto’s most memorable nightclubs, they’ve owned them as well. Few have been as influential, audacious, or fanciful as nightlife impresario and restaurateur Johnny Katsuras. Since the late 1970s, the man better known as Johnny K has owned and operated a wide variety of thematic hot spots—often with wife, business partner, and chef Laura Prentice—in areas just off the beaten path, with a lean towards the city’s east end.

In the second half of 1987, Katsuras followed on the success of his establishments—including his long-running, self-titled resto and surprisingly successful Beaches dance bar Krush—by turning attention to Jarvis and Richmond. Here, in an area filled with historic, often underused commercial buildings, Johnny K purchased a three-floor heritage property built in 1898, once known as MacFarlane’s Hotel. It had previously operated as The Jarvis House and then gay bar Club 101 by the Chrysalis Group, also owners of Yorkville mega-club The Copa.

Continue Reading…

1980s, After-hours, Disco, Electro, Freestyle, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave

Then & Now: Club Z

September 23, 2014
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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.

BYDENISE 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.

Continue Reading…

1990s, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Soul, Spoken Word

Then & Now: 52 inc.

September 21, 2014
Co-founders Amy Katz (middle left) and Kate Cassidy (middle right), with 52 inc. staffer/collaborators Elliot George and Wudasie Efrem, on the bar's final day. Photo courtesy of Kate Cassidy.

Co-founders Amy Katz (middle left) and Kate Cassidy (middle right), with 52 inc. staffer/collaborators Elliot George and Wudasie Efrem on the bar’s final day. Photo courtesy of Kate Cassidy.

Article originally published January 4, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

In the latest instalment of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson takes us back to College Street in the mid-90s, when a female-friendly hotbed for arts and culture opened up just as Little Italy was beginning to explode.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: 52 inc., 394 College Street

Years in operation: 1995 — 2000

52 inc. logo

History: On August 2nd 1995, two 23-year-old friends—Kate Cassidy and Amy Katz—opened a community-minded café, bar and boutique just one block away from their shared rental apartment at College and Borden. 52 inc., named as a nod to women forming fifty-two percent of the global population, was a complementary addition to a neighbourhood filled with diverse independent businesses.

Continue Reading…

1980s, After-hours, Dance Music, New Wave

Then & Now: Voodoo

September 20, 2014
coat check girls

Photo of Voodoo coat check girls courtesy of Tracy Graham.

Article originally published November 16, 2011 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

In this instalment of her nightclub-history series Then & Now, Denise Benson looks back to a time when Toronto nightlife orbited around Yonge and St. Joseph thanks to early ‘80s after-hours haunt Voodoo, which brought goths, gays and fashionistas together—only to be brought down, ironically, by Jack Layton.

BY: DENISE BENSON

Club: Voodoo, 9 St. Joseph

Years in operation: 1981-1985

History: To discuss this deeply influential alternative after-hours club space is to delve into a history of Toronto nightlife that was anchored around St. Joseph Street and the surrounding area from the late 1970s through the mid-’80s. It’s a history of emerging sounds and fashions, diverse sexualities and late-night community—all played out in a city centre then becoming increasingly residential.

Before Voodoo opened in August of 1981, the original Domino Klub on Isabella was home to punks, rockers and gays alike; there were boozecans along Yonge (most notably on the corner of Maitland Street, above vital clothing store South Pacific); and the addresses 5-9 St. Joseph housed rock bar The Forge at street level, with disco club Bellows above. St. Joseph was a key street for Toronto’s growing gay community; The Forge space became famed gay dance club Katrina’s, with neighbouring homo and mixed social spaces including Le Tube, St. Joseph Café, Stages and Club Manatee.

Continue Reading…

1980s, After-hours, Alternative, Dance Music, Electro, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave

Then & Now: Twilight Zone

September 16, 2014
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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.

BYDENISE 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.

Continue Reading…