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The Diamond

1990s, 2000s, 2010s, Dance Music, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic, Hip-Hop, House, Live Music, Pop, Rock, Techno, Toronto Rave

Then & Now: The Guvernment complex

March 7, 2015

All photos in the gallery by Tobias Wang of Visualbass Photography.

After almost two decades of hosting the world’s biggest DJs, alongside some of Toronto’s finest, Canada’s largest nightclub recently closed doors to make way for condo development on the waterfront. With the participation of some of The Guv’s key players, Then & Now delves deep to tell the exhaustive story of a club that mirrors – and contributed greatly to – electronic music’s evolution. Rave on.

By: DENISE BENSON

Club: The Guvernment complex, 132 Queens Quay East

Years in operation: 1996 – 2015

History: Charles Khabouth has been mentioned throughout the Then & Now series as his influence in Toronto nightlife is widely felt. Khabouth’s earliest nightclubs, Club Z on St. Joseph and Stilife on Richmond, were pioneering in very different ways. Early in 1996, he began work on a wildly ambitious project, one so successful that it would both cement Toronto’s reputation as an international clubbing destination, and anchor Khabouth’s ever-expanding business empire. But things could have turned out very differently.

In the mid ‘90s, the stretch of our waterfront near Queens Quay and Jarvis was still fairly isolated and industrial. A stone’s throw from Lake Shore Boulevard, it held factories, parking lots and stretches of open space. Condos did not dominate the landscape.

The 60,000 square foot space at 132 Queens Quay East had housed large clubs in its recent past. From 1984 to late 1985, it had been home to the Assoon brothers’ innovative Fresh Restaurant and Nightclub. For the next decade, it was the location of popular club RPM and its sister concert space, the Warehouse.

When Khabouth took over the building on January 1, 1996 he couldn’t have known that he had almost eight months of renovating ahead. But he did know that he had to compete with Toronto’s then-booming, highly concentrated Entertainment District.

“I thought, ‘How am I going to compete with 50 nightclubs side-by-side downtown?’ Khabouth tells me during an expansive interview. “Kids would go to the one area and bop around all night long. I realized I had to do a multi-room venue or I had no hope in hell. That’s why I created five venues under one roof, plus the Warehouse, which really was a warehouse.” Continue Reading…

1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Dance Music, Disco, Funk, New Wave, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: The Big Bop, part 1

December 10, 2014

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.

BYDENISE 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.

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.

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1980s, 1990s, Alternative, Electronic, House, Industrial, Rave, Rock

Then & Now: Empire Dancebar

December 4, 2014
Empire GTO ___ 525441edbf581-Empire-Opening-of-Psych-Wed

The Empire crew is decked out and ready to dig Psychedelic Wednesdays. Photo courtesy of Michelle Fabry.

 

Article originally published October 8, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

This edition of Denise Benson’s Toronto-nightlife history series tells the story of how a local gay-community landmark was reborn in the late ’80s as a cutting-edge alternative club where you could dance to acid-rock and acid-house alike.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Empire Dancebar, 488A Yonge

Years in operation: 1988-1992

History: In a city where history is so often obliterated or obscured to make way for the new, there’s something comforting about the old clock tower still found atop 484-488 Yonge. It was built in 1870, as part of the original Toronto Fire Hall No. 3, which remained at the address until its move around the corner, to Grosvenor Street, in 1929.

After the hall closed on Yonge, that building was occupied by retail businesses until the St. Charles Tavern took root in 1951. By the early 1960s, the St. Charles was known to be a gay bar. It, along with the nearby Parkside Tavern, became a significant gathering spot that would help hasten the development of queer social life anchored around Yonge during the 1970s. The St. Charles, while also remembered as the focus of homophobic attacks (especially at Halloween), remains one of this city’s best-known gay bars of all time. A number of discos opened above it over the years, with the most popular being The Maygay and Charly’s. A club called Y-Not also operated upstairs in the mid 1980s. By 1987, following years of neglect, the St. Charles was a shadow of its former self and closed.

A year later, the upper level would re-open as Empire Dancebar, a versatile venue dreamed up by friends Dave Craig and Michael Marier. As a teen, Craig had been an MC and DJ in TKO Sound Crew, a popular group that was eventually inducted into the Stylus Awards Hall of Fame in 2008. Craig left TKO to join a new crew, Romantic Sounds, which was started by Marier. Together, they produced events including The House, a weekly underground jam held at the Party Centre at Church and Shuter. As their crowds increased each week, so too did the building manager’s rent demands.

“Eventually Mike’s dad, Bob, suggested that we should get our own space, and he funded the creation of Empire with a quarter-of-a-million dollar investment,” says Craig.

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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…

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 (thegridto.com).

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.

BYDENISE BENSON

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.

Continue Reading…

1970s, 1980s, Dance Music, Disco, Funk, New Wave, Pop

Then & Now: Sparkles

November 3, 2014

All photos in the gallery courtesy of the CN Tower Archives.

 

Article originally published December 21, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

In this edition of Then & Now, we travel back three decades—and up 1,100 feet—to revisit the CN Tower’s beloved in-house discotheque.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Sparkles, 301 Front St. W.

Years in operation: 1979-1991

History: When the construction of Toronto’s iconic CN Tower began in February of 1973, few would have imagined it filled with strobe lights and spandex. The Canadian National Railroad’s Tower would be an impressive engineering feat, serving as both tourist attraction and a communications boon for radio and television broadcasters seeking a taller building on which to place transmitters for stronger signals.

The CN Tower opened to the public in June 26, 1976. At that time, the surrounding area was far from dense or residential. The north side of Front Street was largely parking lots, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre had not been built, nor had the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). In fact, one accessed the Tower by walking through a pedestrian bridge—starting from where Rogers Centre is now—that crossed over sets of train tracks. There was a reflecting pool at the Tower’s base, and fields nearby.

In 1979, to coincide with the Tower’s third anniversary, one-third of the indoor observation level was developed into a discothèque. The goal was to attract diverse evening crowds to this floor, which lay below the Tower’s rotating 360 Restaurant and above the outdoor observation deck.

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1970s, 1980s, After-hours, Dance Music, Disco, Electro, Gay, New Wave

Then & Now: Stages

October 29, 2014
STAGES 004

The scene at Stages. Photo by Terry Robson, courtesy of Arnie Kliger.

 

Article originally published December 4, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

With the help of two rare DJ mixes, we revisit the early-‘80s Yonge Street club that provided Toronto’s gay community with a safe haven and showcased cutting-edge dance-music sounds, before the spectre of AIDS brought the party to a close.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Stages, 530 Yonge

Years in operation: 1977-1984

History: The northwest corner of Yonge and Breadalbane was once occupied by the Hotel Breadalbane. In 1945, the Bolter family purchased the hotel and would transform the downstairs of 530 Yonge into The Parkside Tavern. The Bolters also owned The St. Charles Tavern, at 488 Yonge. By the mid-1960s, both taverns were known to be gay bars.

At that point in history, gay nightlife in Toronto was still very much underground. It was common for the heterosexual owners of gay bars to be contemptuous of their clientele. This seems to have been the situation at The Parkside, a dingy beer hall largely frequented by a daytime crowd. The Parkside’s owners allowed police to regularly spy on patrons in the washrooms, waiting to nab men engaged in any sort of sexual acts. Arrests were made, and the practice continued throughout the 1970s, even as gay activists organized leafleting campaigns and called for boycotts of the bar.

These conflicts were characteristic of the time. During the mid-to-late-1970s, Yonge Street was the main artery of Toronto gay social life (it would shift to Church in the mid-1980s). Those looking to dance could hit a number of spots near Yonge and Wellesley, like The Manatee, The Quest, Katrina’s, Club David’s, The Maygay (later Charly’s), and Cornelius, which sat above biker bar The Gasworks. By 1977, there were even two gay-owned bars in the area: The Barn, opened by Janko Naglic at 418 Church, and small cruise bar Dudes, opened by Roger Wilkes, a founder of the York University Homophile Association, and his partner David Payne in an alley just behind The Parkside.

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1970s, 1980s, All-ages, Blues, Jazz, Live Music, New Wave, Post-punk, Punk, Rock, Singer-songwriter

Then & Now: The Edge

October 27, 2014
The Edge GTO ___ The-Police-1979

The Police hang at The Edge in 1979 with Q107′s Gary Slaight (left) and Brian Master (third from left). Photo courtesy of Gary Topp.

Article originally published November 2, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

After punk exploded in the late ’70s, this infamous Gerrard Street new-wave mecca kept the fire burning into the ’80s—even if its many famous performers were in danger of getting doused by the overflowing upstairs toilets leaking onto the stage.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: The Edge, 70 Gerrard St. E.

Years in operation: 1979-1981

History: On the northeast corner of Gerrard and Church sits a modest three-floor building that has had—and housed—many lives. It is said to have once been the residence of Egerton (pronounced “Edge-erton”) Ryerson, a prominent Canadian educator who, in 1852, founded the Toronto Normal School at what is now Bond and Gould streets.

Ryerson University is named after him, as was Egerton’s Restaurant and Tavern, a student hangout and folk-music club that opened at 70 Gerrard St. E. in the early 1970s. Licensed as a “listening room” and required to sell food, Egerton’s was open seven days a week, sold cheap beer, and booked live performers like Stan Rogers.

“We lived in the shadow of The Riverboat [in Yorkville] and bigger clubs that had bigger stages and dance floors, like the El Mocambo, Midwich Cuckoo Tavern, and Jarvis House,” recalls Derek Andrews, a veteran Toronto live-music programmer who got his start in the industry as a dishwasher at Egerton’s in January 1974.

Andrews would continue at the location for almost eight years, working his way up to busboy, waiter, and general manager. He shares that Egerton’s had been owned by Warren Beamish, PC candidate for the Rosedale riding in 1974’s federal election, before it was acquired by Bernie Kamin and Harvey Hudes, partners in Mosport Park, among other projects. The pair brought in a young Ron Chapman as co-owner and managing operator.

Chapman and Andrews—who together would run the Nite Life management company which represented artists including songwriter Eddie “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” Schwartz, Paul Quarrington, and Ellen McIlwaine—would go on to book the likes of legendary funk drummer Bernard Purdie during Egerton’s later period.

But Chapman also had an eye on Toronto’s emerging underground. Late in 1978, he invited prescient concert promoters Gary Topp and Gary Cormier, together known as The Garys, to come book live music at Egerton’s.

Continue Reading…

1980s, Alternative, Blues, Dance Music, Funk, Hip-Hop, House, Live Music, New Wave, Rock, Soul

Then & Now: The Diamond Club

October 21, 2014

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.

BYDENISE 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.

Continue Reading…

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 (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.

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