Browsing Tag

Yonge Street

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

Then & Now: Empire Dancebar

December 4, 2014
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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, After-hours, Dance Music, Disco, Gay, Live Music, Pop, Punk

Then & Now: Club David’s

November 24, 2014
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Allan Bell a.k.a. Phyllis (left) with Sister Rock-On at David’s. Photo courtesy of Wendy Peacock.

 

Article originally published March 26, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

In its brief lifespan, this ‘70s hotspot served as both a gay disco and punk-rock haven—before it all ended in a mysterious fire and murder.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Club David’s, 16 Phipps

Years in operation: 1975-1977

History: The allure that the Yonge and St. Joseph area once held for creatures of the night has been detailed in a number of previous Then & Now pieces, including those about early 1980s venues Voodoo and Club Z. Here, we visit a prior decade to travel a short distance south, down a once-existing strip of the St. Nicholas alleyway, to a barely-there street called Phipps.

Moving and storage company Rawlinson Cartage constructed the building at 16 Phipps in the late 1890s. A small tunnel, thought to once hold a conveyor belt, connected it to the building directly north, at 11A St. Joseph. As with a number of neighbouring structures, it was also erected by Rawlinson.

In the early 1970s, 11A St. Joseph was home to popular all-ages gay male dance club The Manatee. Nearby Yonge Street bars The Parkside Tavern and St. Charles Tavern were gay hotspots, as was intimate Isabella Street disco Mrs. Knights.

Club David’s added new possibilities to the mix when Jay Cochrane and Sandy Leblanc opened it in the spring of 1975.

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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…

1980s, Dance Music, Disco, Funk, Jazz, Lesbian, Live Music, New Wave, Pop, Rock

Then & Now: Chez Moi

November 3, 2014
CHEZ MOI T-shirt!

DJ Dallas (centre, in Chez Moi T-shirt) and friends. Photo courtesy of Dallas Noftall.

 

Article originally published January 14, 2013 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).

In the 1980s, Toronto’s lesbian scene was underground—quite literally, as it was often relegated to out-of-sight basement venues. Here, Denise Benson revisits the club that changed all that.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Chez Moi, 30 Hayden

Years in operation: 1984-1989

History: Though it may be difficult for younger dykes socializing in today’s Toronto to imagine, it wasn’t so long ago that queer women in this city had few options for meeting, dancing, and creating community.

From the late 1970s into the ’80s, there were occasional “Women’s Dances” (rarely was there a trendy title to be found) at venues including The Masonic Temple, The Party Centre, and The 519 Community Centre, as well as union halls, church basements and, well, basements in general. Lesbian bars were often dark, small, and far from central, although some—like The Blue Jay, Kit Kat Club, Deco’s, Fly By Night, Cameo, and The Warehouse—are still talked about lovingly in some lesbian circles. There were also mixed queer venues, like The Carriage House on Jarvis, The Quest on Yonge, and Katrina’s on St. Joseph, where gay women were very welcome.

By the time Chez Moi opened in 1984, there was a dearth of social spots for lesbians, despite the explosion of gay men’s bars on Yonge, Church, and surrounding streets. In fact, The Chez itself wasn’t even a dedicated spot for women when it first opened.

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

Then & Now: Stages

October 29, 2014
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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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1980s, 1990s, After-hours, Dance Music, Disco, Gay, House, New Wave

Then & Now: Komrads

September 25, 2014
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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.

BYDENISE 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.

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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 (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.

BYDENISE 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.

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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 (TheGridTO.com).

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.

BYDENISE BENSON

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, After-hours, Disco, Electro, Freestyle, Hip-Hop, House, New Wave

Then & Now: Club Z

September 23, 2014
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Anything could happen at Club Z. Photos courtesy of INK Entertainment.

Article originally published February 16, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

In this instalment of her ongoing nightlife-history series, Denise Benson looks back at the first club creation of Toronto nightlife magnate Charles Khabouth. At just 22 years old, he opened Club Z in 1984, but its groundbreaking legacy lives on to this day.

BYDENISE BENSON

Club: Club Z, 11A St. Joseph Street

Years in operation: 1984-1989

History: Tracing the history of this city’s nightlife tells us much about its physical transformation and urban development. Nowhere is this more obvious than at the corner of Yonge and St. Joseph. Here, we’ve recently seen a few significant buildings largely demolished as part of their ongoing metamorphosis into Five Condos.

I had often wondered about the physical similarities between the original red brick buildings at 610 Yonge, 5 and 11 St. Joseph, and 15 St. Nicholas, but only recently noticed the plaque on 11’s easterly side. It turns out that moving and storage company Rawlinson Cartage built all of them, with the warehouse space of 11 St. Joseph constructed between 1895 and 1898.

Gay Torontonians who socialized in the 1970s and early ‘80s will remember 11A St. Joseph as popular all-ages discotheque Club Manatee, a three-level spot where the DJ booth was in the bow of a boat hanging above the crowd.

In September of 1984, directly after the Manatee’s closing, a 22-year-old Charles Khabouth debuted as a nightlife entrepreneur by opening Club Z in that very location. Now known as the CEO of INK Entertainment, whose many impressive properties include The Guvernment, La Société Bistro and the Bisha hotel/condo project, Khabouth started with just $30,000 and a desire to fuse his love of music, fashion and dance.

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1980s, After-hours, Dance Music, New Wave

Then & Now: Voodoo

September 20, 2014
coat check girls

Photo of Voodoo coat check girls courtesy of Tracy Graham.

Article originally published November 16, 2011 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

In this instalment of her nightclub-history series Then & Now, Denise Benson looks back to a time when Toronto nightlife orbited around Yonge and St. Joseph thanks to early ‘80s after-hours haunt Voodoo, which brought goths, gays and fashionistas together—only to be brought down, ironically, by Jack Layton.

BY: DENISE BENSON

Club: Voodoo, 9 St. Joseph

Years in operation: 1981-1985

History: To discuss this deeply influential alternative after-hours club space is to delve into a history of Toronto nightlife that was anchored around St. Joseph Street and the surrounding area from the late 1970s through the mid-’80s. It’s a history of emerging sounds and fashions, diverse sexualities and late-night community—all played out in a city centre then becoming increasingly residential.

Before Voodoo opened in August of 1981, the original Domino Klub on Isabella was home to punks, rockers and gays alike; there were boozecans along Yonge (most notably on the corner of Maitland Street, above vital clothing store South Pacific); and the addresses 5-9 St. Joseph housed rock bar The Forge at street level, with disco club Bellows above. St. Joseph was a key street for Toronto’s growing gay community; The Forge space became famed gay dance club Katrina’s, with neighbouring homo and mixed social spaces including Le Tube, St. Joseph Café, Stages and Club Manatee.

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