Browsing Tag

Richmond Street

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, After-hours, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, House, Rave, Techno

Then & Now: 23 Hop

September 17, 2014
23 Hop GTO ___ hop1

Photo of 23 Hop hallway by Chris “Space” Gray.


Article originally published October 18, 2011 by The Grid online. It was third in the series. Given that Then & Now articles later grew in length and number of participants, the story of 23 Hop will be explored in more detail for the T&N book.

In the latest instalment of her nightclub-history series, Denise Benson revisits a dingy, graffiti-covered venue that had no signage and minimal lighting, but proved to be ground zero for Toronto’s early ‘90s rave scene.


Club: 23 Hop, 318 Richmond St. W.

Years in operation: 1990-1995

Why it was important: Like the Twilight Zone, 23 Hop housed a new musical vision in a part of town then filled with more empty warehouses than clubs. Key to the genesis of Toronto’s rave scene, the venue originally operated as an all-ages club owned by Wesley Thuro, who would go on to open The Bovine Sex Club (with Chris Sheppard and Darryl Fine) in 1991 and now defunct Annex barbecue joint Cluck, Grunt & Low in 2007.

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

Then & Now: Twilight Zone

September 16, 2014
The Twilight Zone GTO ___ img001-970x660

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.


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.

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