The Boots dancefloor during a 1990s Pride weekend event. Photo courtesy of Casey McNeill.
Article originally published September 17, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
One of the largest and longest-lasting gay dance clubs in Toronto, this Sherbourne Street super-club went through a number of evolutions as it spurred the local mainstreaming of gay culture during the ’80s and ’90s.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Boots/Boots Warehouse, 592 Sherbourne St.
Years in operation: 1981-2000
History: The story of Boots, one of Toronto’s best-known and longest-lasting gay dance clubs, begins in 1980 at the Waldorf Astoria apartment building. The basement of what was once a hotel at 80 Charles St. E. was rented to a group of men; their first incarnation of Boots proved popular enough that there were noise complaints. The lease was not renewed.
The original Boots on Charles Street. Photo by Joan Anderson,
courtesy of the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives.
By late summer of 1981, Boots re-opened in another lower-level location, this time at 592 Sherbourne St., site of the historic Selby Hotel. Once a grand mansion, the building was constructed in the late-1800s, and was home for more than 20 years to members of the wealthy Gooderham family. In 1910, a large addition built on the rear of the mansion opened as Branksome Hall, a private school for girls.
Crowd at Komrads. Photo courtesy of Shawn Riker.
Article originally published June 21, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
In this edition of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson takes us back to the after-hours nightclub that helped mobilize Toronto’s gay-rights movement in the 1980s.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Komrads, 1 Isabella St.
Years in operation: 1985-1991
History: In 1980s’ Toronto, street corners and dance clubs still served as essential meeting spots for gays and other marginalized communities. The stretch of Isabella closest to Yonge called out to many, especially after dark.
On the outer edges of the Church and Wellesley-centred gay village, the corner was close to popular homo haunts including Yonge Street’s St. Charles Tavern, Trax, and the Parkside Tavern, with gay dance club Stages above it. Nearby bathhouses were plentiful, Queen’s Park was still a major pick-up spot, and easy bar-hopping meant that gay men had lots of options even in those pre-Grindr days.
“The Yonge and Isabella area was really amazingly gay,” recalls event producer Maxwell Blandford, once a key figure in adventuresome Toronto clubs and now based in Miami. “Many bars, along with stores like Northbound Leather, were within a couple of blocks and infused thousands of gay people into that corridor.
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 inside OZ, courtesy of Luke Dalinda.
Article originally published November 2, 2011 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
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.
BY: DENISE BENSON
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.