Click through the photo gallery to see more scenes from inside the Big Bop.
Article originally published April 29, 2014 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
In the mid-1980s, the Queen-and-Bathurst area was a wasteland—until this multi-floor/multi-genre dance-club rocked the corner to life, and shifted the future course of Toronto nightlife in the process.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: The Big Bop, 651 Queen St. W.
Years in operation: 1986-1996
History: The heritage building on the southeast corner of Queen West and Bathurst has long been a prominent marker in Toronto’s collective consciousness. Originally known as The Occidental Building, it was built in 1876 for the Toronto Masons, and was the work of Toronto-born architect E. J. Lennox who also designed Old City Hall, Casa Loma, and more than 70 other buildings in this city.
The south-east corner of Queen and Bathurst, circa 1928.
In 1948, the upper part of 651 Queen St. W. was demolished and the address opened as the Holiday Tavern. The Holiday was a dinner club, complete with stage shows, including jazz and R&B bands. Later, the Tavern would become known as a beer hall and strip club. An attempt to revive it as a live-music venue was made in the ’80s, with bands like The Shuffle Demons holding down residencies.
It was also during this period, specifically in 1984, that the largely white building underwent a neon, new-wave makeover by Toronto artist Bart Schoales, who was commissioned to create both interior and exterior murals.
The Diamond Club dancefloor. This and all photos in gallery by Gokche Erkan. All rights reserved.
Article originally published September 12. 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
We revisit the crown jewel of late-‘80s Toronto nightlife, where everyone from house enthusiasts to members of Pink Floyd felt right at home.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: The Diamond Club, 410 Sherbourne St.
Years in operation: 1984-1991
History: While Torontonians have known 410 Sherbourne as a dance club and concert venue for almost three decades, the building was once home to music and theatrics of a different sort. Starting in the 1950s, the German-Canadian Club Harmonie offered everything from community gatherings to oom-pah bands to ballroom dancing at the address.
In the early 1980s, New Yorker Pat Kenny entered the picture. At the time, Kenny owned or co-owned three Manhattan clubs: Greenwich Village rock spots The Bitter End and Kenny’s Castaways (now run by his son), and larger dance club and concert venue The Cat Club.
“Pat was called ‘The Bard of Bleeker Street’ because he was a larger-than-life character, and extremely well known in New York,” says Toronto club and music-industry veteran Randy Charlton, who worked for Kenny. “He helped break the careers of a lot of struggling young artists in the 1960s into the ’70s, like Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Mark Knopfler before Dire Straits was well known.”
Though based in New York, Kenny took an interest in Toronto. Friends involved in The Village Gate nightclub and dinner theatre wanted to open an offshoot location here; Kenny opened it at 410 Sherbourne, with Club Harmonie still holding court in a small space within the building. After a few unsuccessful productions, the dinner theatre folded, and Kenny rented the entire building to open a nightclub.
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.
BY: DENISE 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.
Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.
Article originally published March 15, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
Denise Benson looks back at the massive, corporate-owned Yorkville spot that helped create Toronto’s big-ticket nightclub experience in the early 1980s.
BY: DENISE BENSON
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.
Boom cage dancers Mikey (far left) and friends. Photo courtesy of Sofia Weber.
Article originally published February 1, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
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.
BY: DENISE BENSON
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.
Klub Max dancefloor circa 1994. Photo by Steven Lungley. All rights reserved.
Article originally published January 19, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
Denise Benson revisits the three-storey super-club that was at the epicentre of Toronto’s early ‘90s Entertainment District explosion.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Klub Max, 52 Peter (now 56 Blue Jays Way)
Years in operation: 1990-1994
History: This is a tale of a changing Toronto. It tells the story of an historic area in transition, mere years before it came to serve as the meeting point for the touristy and the trendy. Also at its centre is a man who became one of this city’s most successful nightlife entrepreneurs, as well as a number of our most recognized DJs.
52 Peter Street was once the George Crookshank House. Built in the 1830s, it’s one of the street’s oldest buildings and was designated an historic site under the Ontario Heritage Act. But its beautiful brick frontage would be obscured by modern smoked glass and signage when Nick Di Donato and his Liberty Entertainment Group renovated it extensively at the end of the 1980s to open, at first, a single-level P.M. Toronto sports bar and restaurant.
In 1990, Di Donato and colleague Angelo Belluz developed the property into the area’s first full-on dance club—a three-floor funhouse named Klub Max. It took vision—and nerve—to open a large club there at the time.