Browsing Tag

Matt C

1990s, Alternative, Dance Music, Electronic, Gay, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Go-Go

November 18, 2014
Go-Go GTO ___ Go-Go-Ad-1992

Image from a Go-Go newspaper ad, circa 1992. Courtesy of Cheryl Butson.


Article originally published February 12, 2013 by The Grid online (

The Ballinger brothers – owners of clubs including the Big Bop and Boom Boom Room – were not known for creating sophisticated spots. That changed with the chic, tri-level super-club that brought long line-ups to the Entertainment District in the early 1990s.


Club: Go-Go, 250 Richmond St. W.

Years in operation: 1990-1993

History: Though based in Toronto for less than a decade, the brothers Ballinger made a long-lasting impression. The “Rock ‘n’ Roll Farmers” from Dundalk were entrepreneurs who’d originally opened a variety of venues in Cambridge, Ontario in the late 1970s.

In 1986, Lon, Stephen, Doug, and Peter Ballinger opened the multi-leveled Big Bop club at Queen and Bathurst. The wildly popular hangout would anchor the southeast corner for over two decades, and was the cornerstone of the club empire the Ballingers would build. Their Boom Boom Room, opened at Queen and Palmerston in 1988, was much smaller in size, but was trendsetting with its mix of rock, alternative, house, and queer nights. With a few years’ experience in T.O. and a staff that was willing and able to bounce between venues, the Ballingers soon set their sites on 250 Richmond St. W. for an ambitious new venture.

Richmond and Duncan was not yet an obvious choice of location. After-hours club Twilight Zone had closed just the year before, and Charles Khabouth’s Stilife, located directly across the street, was showing signs of slowing. Beyond these venues, and after-hours rave destination 23 Hop, which would soon open at 318 Richmond St. W., the area was still largely deserted at night.

But with Doug Ballinger at the wheel, the brothers would develop a 14,000 square foot, tri-level warehouse building into one of the most innovative and influential clubs Toronto would experience in the 1990s.

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

Then & Now: RPM

October 7, 2014
Shep RPM 2

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 (

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.


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.

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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 (

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


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.

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1980s, After-hours, All-ages, Dance Music, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave, Reggae, Rock, Ska

Then & Now: Club Focus

September 23, 2014
Club Focus GTO ___ Marc-K

Club Focus bouncer Marc Kyriacou. Photo courtesy of Johnbronski.

Article originally published February 29, 2012 by The Grid online (

Denise Benson looks back at the all-ages venue that first introduced many of today’s top nightlife-industry players to the Toronto dance scene—and also served as a breeding ground for infamous ‘80s street gang The Untouchables.


Club: Club Focus, 14 Hagerman

Years in operation: 1986-1989

History: Club Focus was housed in a nondescript, two-storey building that would have been constructed during the decades (1870-1960) when Toronto’s original Chinatown was centered near the corner of Elizabeth and Louisa. The one-block-stretch that runs parallel to the north end of City Hall, from Elizabeth to Bay, was later renamed Hagerman.

In the 1950s, many buildings in this still-industrial area—with the original City Hall and Eaton’s Annex main store nearby—were obtained by the city for the construction of Nathan Phillips Square and a new City Hall, which opened in 1965 and spurred nearby development. The Eaton Centre was built two blocks away, on the east side of Bay, in the late ’70s.

While Focus opened upstairs at 14 Hagerman as an unlicensed, all-ages dance club near the close of 1986, the site had already been a social hub. As Hagerman Hall, it had hosted community dances (including those of pioneering gay organization Community Homophile Association of Toronto, a.k.a. CHAT, in the very early ’70s) and a karate club; the space was known as Club Kongos in the early/mid ’80s.

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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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1990s, After-hours, Alternative, Dance Music, Hip-Hop, House, Industrial, Rave, Rock, Techno

Then & Now: Klub Max

September 22, 2014
Klub Max dancefloor, 1994.

Klub Max dancefloor circa 1994. Photo by Steven Lungley. All rights reserved.


Article originally published January 19, 2012 by The Grid online (

Denise Benson revisits the three-storey super-club that was at the epicentre of Toronto’s early ‘90s Entertainment District explosion.


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.

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1990s, After-hours, Dance Music, Drum 'n' Bass, Hip-Hop, House, Techno

Then & Now: Industry

September 21, 2014
Roger Sanchez (3rd week of Industry 1996)

Photo of Roger Sanchez at Industry in July 1996 courtesy of Gavin Bryan.


Article originally published November 30, 2011 by The Grid online (

In this instalment of Then & Now, Denise Benson looks back at the legendary King West super-club that put Toronto on the international dance-music map, Industry.


Club: Industry nightclub, 901 King West

Years in operation: 1996-2000

Industry tag. Photo by Randy Chow.

Industry tag. Photo by Randy Chow.

History: Industry was a labour of love that grew out of youthful enthusiasm, overlapping friendships and prior club experiences. DJ Mario Jukica (Mario J) was 19 and his promoter friend Gavin “Gerbz” Bryan 24 when they moved from Oakville to downtown Toronto to develop a vision for a nightclub with DJ Matthew Casselman (Matt C) and business-minded clubber Daniel Bellavance. Bryan and Casselman had worked together at RPM (now The Guvernment) and were two of the core forces behind afterhours club BUZZ (now Comfort Zone), where Mario J was also a resident DJ.

After eight short, but impactful months, BUZZ was forced to relocate and out of it grew something much larger. The four men came together to create a thousand-person-capacity venue at King and Strachan, then a rather undeveloped area. Industry’s doors opened on July 5, 1996.

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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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