Dan Burke under the Neon Palm, circa 2001. Photo: Peter Power / Toronto Star.
Article originally published August 10, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
The legendary Spadina venue has just been sold for a reported $3 million, with its new owners promising to return the club to its late-‘70s glory days. But in this edition of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson looks back at the people and parties that kept this Toronto landmark alive during its leanest years.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: The El Mocambo Tavern, 464 Spadina Ave.
Years in operation: 1946-present. Here, I focus specifically on the era spanning 1989-2001.
History: Arguably Toronto’s most illustrious live music venue, Spadina’s historic El Mocambo Tavern has meant many things to many people over the past 66 years: soul and blues hub, revered rock and roots venue, queer-punk hotbed. The building itself is said to date back to 1850, and to have acted as a haven for escaped slaves in a part of the city that was long home to a sizable African-Canadian community.
The El Mocambo, complete with infamous palm-tree sign, opened in the 1940s as a two-floor live music venue, and was granted one of Toronto’s earliest liquor licences. While it’s never been fancy, the El Mo boasts an incredible rock, soul, jazz, and blues pedigree. Charles Mingus, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Guess Who, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, U2, Blondie, and The Ramones all played there, as did a certain British band that performed two nights under the pseudonym of The Cockroaches.
“The Rolling Stones’ shows in 1977 put The El Mocambo on the ‘world stage,’” says longtime local music booker Enzo Petrungaro, who co-owned the venue from 1989 to 1992.