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.
BY: DENISE 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.
Boom cage dancers Mikey (far left) and friends. Photo courtesy of Sofia Weber.
Article originally published February 1, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
In this instalment of her ongoing nightlife-history series, Denise Benson looks back at the notoriously decadent late-’80s dance club that brought metalheads and rap fans together, installed a hot tub and cages on the dancefloor, and effectively brought the “queer” to Queen West.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Boom Boom Room, 650 ½ Queen St. W.
Years in operation: 1988-1993
History: One cannot discuss this city’s nightlife history at any length without mention of the brothers Ballinger: Lon, Stephen, Douglas and Peter. The self-described “Rock ‘n’ Roll Farmers” from Dundalk, Ontario ruled the roost in mid-to-late-1980s Toronto. In 1986, they converted the former Holiday Tavern at Queen and Bathurst into The Big Bop, a multi-floor rock and dance club that packed in the student crowd. Its success paved the way for future Ballinger club endeavours, including Go-Go, Rockit and, at the northeast corner of Queen and Palmerston, Boom Boom Room.
Previously, 650 ½ Queen West was home, at street level, to live blues venue The Pine Tree Tavern, with a hotel above. In 1988, the Ballingers bought and renovated the building, turning the upstairs into Hotel Heartbreak—a hotel-cum-rooming house announced by a big, bold neon sign—and the downstairs into a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Danceteria” that was far more intimate and edgy than their other club efforts.
Klub Max dancefloor circa 1994. Photo by Steven Lungley. All rights reserved.
Article originally published January 19, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
Denise Benson revisits the three-storey super-club that was at the epicentre of Toronto’s early ‘90s Entertainment District explosion.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Klub Max, 52 Peter (now 56 Blue Jays Way)
Years in operation: 1990-1994
History: This is a tale of a changing Toronto. It tells the story of an historic area in transition, mere years before it came to serve as the meeting point for the touristy and the trendy. Also at its centre is a man who became one of this city’s most successful nightlife entrepreneurs, as well as a number of our most recognized DJs.
52 Peter Street was once the George Crookshank House. Built in the 1830s, it’s one of the street’s oldest buildings and was designated an historic site under the Ontario Heritage Act. But its beautiful brick frontage would be obscured by modern smoked glass and signage when Nick Di Donato and his Liberty Entertainment Group renovated it extensively at the end of the 1980s to open, at first, a single-level P.M. Toronto sports bar and restaurant.
In 1990, Di Donato and colleague Angelo Belluz developed the property into the area’s first full-on dance club—a three-floor funhouse named Klub Max. It took vision—and nerve—to open a large club there at the time.
Divine (centre) with Nuts & Bolts regulars Lynette and Sherri, 1987. Photo courtesy of David Heymes.
Article originally published December 14, 2011 by The Grid online. Admittedly, it was difficult to research this club’s earliest years and contributors. As a result, a number of details originally included were inaccurate or incomplete, as pointed out in comments from a number of Grid readers. Some details have been updated as a result. This story will be further researched and developed for the Then & Now book.
In the latest instalment of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson takes us back to a time when the edge of the Ryerson campus served as a breeding ground for Toronto’s alternative-scene explosion.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Nuts & Bolts, 277 Victoria St.
Years of operation: 1980-1988 [Original article stated 1977 - 1988]
History: In many ways, fabled alternative bar Nuts & Bolts was one of Toronto’s most unlikely dance-club success stories. Housed in the basement of a six-storey office building on the edge of Ryerson University’s campus, Nuts & Bolts was owned by Frank Cutajar, also proprietor of the All-Star Eatery, located on the ground floor of the same building.
According to all I spoke with and based on my own experiences—my first professional DJ gigs in Toronto were at Cutajar’s gay/alt club Showbiz, located around the corner, upstairs at 3 Gould St.—Frank was far from cutting-edge or visionary in his approach to running clubs. But he hired wisely.
It seems Nuts & Bolts’ first manager, Ed Jandrisits, was heavily responsible for the bar’s post-punk lean as he, in turn, hired a new-wave-loving staff. Jandrisits set the tone for the venue’s family vibe, with a great number of its bartenders, DJs and other staff—including infamous doorman Henry, who greeted people as they made their way down a dark staircase and through double metal doors—remaining at the club for years, often in a variety of jobs.
Photo of Roger Sanchez at Industry in July 1996 courtesy of Gavin Bryan.
Article originally published November 30, 2011 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
In this instalment of Then & Now, Denise Benson looks back at the legendary King West super-club that put Toronto on the international dance-music map, Industry.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Industry nightclub, 901 King West
Years in operation: 1996-2000
Industry tag. Photo by Randy Chow.
History: Industry was a labour of love that grew out of youthful enthusiasm, overlapping friendships and prior club experiences. DJ Mario Jukica (Mario J) was 19 and his promoter friend Gavin “Gerbz” Bryan 24 when they moved from Oakville to downtown Toronto to develop a vision for a nightclub with DJ Matthew Casselman (Matt C) and business-minded clubber Daniel Bellavance. Bryan and Casselman had worked together at RPM (now The Guvernment) and were two of the core forces behind afterhours club BUZZ (now Comfort Zone), where Mario J was also a resident DJ.
After eight short, but impactful months, BUZZ was forced to relocate and out of it grew something much larger. The four men came together to create a thousand-person-capacity venue at King and Strachan, then a rather undeveloped area. Industry’s doors opened on July 5, 1996.
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.
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.
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.
BY: DENISE BENSON
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.