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…
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.
The scene at System Soundbar, September 24, 2005. Photo by Ryan Parks.
Article originally published April 12, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
In the latest edition of her nightlife-history series, Denise Benson revisits the Entertainment District institution that brought underground rave culture to Toronto’s mainstream club crowd at the dawn of the millennium.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: System Soundbar, 117 Peter
Years in operation: 1999-2005
History: System Soundbar was an unlikely home for electronic dance music with a decidedly underground bent. Opened smack dab in the middle of the commercial club district, System was owned by Zisi Konstantinou—former owner/operator of successful Adelaide Street spot Limelight—with his partners Spyros Theoharis and Boris Khaimovich. They hired former Limelight employee Orin Bristol as general manager, and the group worked to develop a plan.
“Zisi purchased the building as a property investment, and we were trying to figure out what to do with the basement as it was just being used as storage space,” shares Bristol. “We spoke about doing a nightclub, but thought it would be a hard sell for a mainstream crowd as it was in a basement.
“At the same time, the city was cracking down on raves and there were less and less spots to do parties in. Because of our Wednesday nights at Limelight [with EDM/rave DJs Craig Pettigrew and John E], we had come to know the guys from [promoters] Lifeforce Industries. Between Craig and them, we talked about doing rave-style events in the space.”