Obscured entrances, abandoned warehouses, illicit substances, and endless hours. Toronto’s underground party scene may still be alive and well, but its roots rest firmly in the 90s and 2000s. Here’s a look at some of the city’s gone but not forgotten after hours staples.
The Matador is the stuff of legend at this point. Originally opened as a country bar in the west end of Toronto, the venue evolved into the most important late night music spots in the history of Toronto. The bar was frequented by such legends as Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, K.D. Lang, and others over the course of its history. The venue was unlicensed, but for several years had live music until 5:30 a.m. and included surprise performances from bands playing in town. The bar sold pop and an elderly woman sat in a corner and would slip you a mickey of vodka or rye in exchange for cash.
56 Kensington Avenue has a long and incredible history in the Toronto’s underground club and music scene. From punk to reggae, to eventual DJ and dance parties, the literal hole-in-the-wall in downtown Toronto’s Kensington Market was a home for underground party culture — and yes it was located in the basement. The unassuming entrance would never give away what was happening inside, which was centred around great music. At one time, 56 Kensignton was also a sneaky late night joint that you could find your way into via a separate entrance and enjoy some post-2 a.m. drinks among the Toronto night owls.
Jesse Keeler from Death From Above (right). Photo by Mike Wallace
The early nineties saw the emergence of rave culture in Toronto pioneered by Don Burns (DJ Dr. Trance) and others. The phenomenon was massive, including raves at the Ontario Science Centre.
At the centre of much of this movement was an abandoned Warehouse on 31 Commissioners Street, around the corner from Rebel Nightclub’s current location. In this warehouse, on select Fridays, one of the best rave parties in the North America would take place into the wee hours of the morning. The biggest DJs in North America would show up and entertain thousands of ravers who were thirsty for pulsing rhythms and often fueled by their chemical(s) of choice. The parties raged on well after last call and are emblematic of a forgotten underground scene in this city that, for those involved, carry a mix of memories ranging from euphoric joy to harsh and gritty comedowns.
In the mid-to-late 2000s on Spadina Ave, just north of Queen Street there was a fairly exclusive after hours club on the second floor of a retail space. The scene was mainly restaurant and bar workers looking for a place to unwind and have a drink after working last call. The music was mainly hip-hop and the vibe was laid back and ultra cool.
Raided in 2009, The Film Lounge was one of the go-to spots for after hours party fiends looking for late night comforts such as dancing, booze, and whatever other party accouterments they might desire. Located in the upper floor of an inconspicuous building smack dab in the middle of China Town on Dundas Street West, Film Lounge’s location outside the club district offered an alternative late night clubbing option.