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…
Ruckus tears up Turbo. Photo by Jay Futronic.
Article originally published September 24, 2012 by The Grid online (thegridto.com).
360 Adelaide St. W. has had many incarnations over its 90-year-plus existence, but it is best remembered as the home of Toronto’s burgeoning drum ‘n’ bass scene in the early 2000s.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Turbo Niteclub, 360 Adelaide W.
Years in operation: 2000-2003
History: Built around 1920, the six-storey red brick office building at 360 Adelaide St. W. has been home to multiple dance clubs, many of them owned and operated by Vincent Donohoe. He’d opened Top 40 venue Denile at the address in 1997, a time when the Entertainment District was synonymous with nightclubs, but Donohoe was no newbie. He’d already helped finance Charles Khabouth’s first two clubs in the 1980s—Club Z at 11A St. Joseph and Stilife on Richmond—and run other businesses.
“Although Charles Khabouth never seems to want to let people know, I was a full partner in Club Z and the money behind Stilife,” writes Donohoe in an email. “He was broke when I met him, and at one time I owned two thirds of Club Z. I also helped put together Orchid Nightclub [on Richmond Street], and was general manager for their first three years, until I built Denile.”
Donohoe’s one-floor Denile later morphed into Jet Nightclub, a hybrid venue that held successful commercial nights, and was regularly rented out by rave production companies like Ritual, Empire, and Lifeforce Industries for much more underground, after-hours events.
AnnMarie McCullough a.k.a. DJ Amtrak at Element. Photo courtesy of her.
Article originally published April 26, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).
As Clubland boomed at the turn of the millennium, this beloved Queen West space provided a big-room experience in an intimate, underground atmosphere—but it ultimately became a victim of its own success.
BY: DENISE BENSON
Club: Element Bar, 553 Queen W.
Years in operation: 1999-2004
History: In the late 1990s, Toronto’s rave and house music scenes were booming. Raves attracted audiences of multiple thousands while even licensed clubs catering to underground tastes tended to hold at least 800. The Entertainment District was littered with venues—most of them commercial and unadventurous—while the College and Ossington strips had not yet developed into hotspots for small to mid-sized venues.
In this environment, a group of friends rented a decidedly intimate space on Queen, between Spadina and Bathurst, that had been home to popular pool hall Behind the Eight Ball and, briefly, 24/7 Billiards. The address was also known for after-hours parties on its top floor, dubbed Zodiac.
Tony Mutch, Marcus Boekelman, and their silent partner Patrik Xuereb all met in high school. By their late 20s, Boekelman and Mutch had both produced parties, with Boekelman having experienced Ibiza and London and promoted events in Toronto featuring electronic dance-music stars like Paul Oakenfold.
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.”