On July 6, a realty listing quietly went up for the Rivoli and Twitter started to swirl: is Toronto losing another of its iconic live music venues?
Sitting on the Queen West bar’s recently reopened patio, co-owner Jenna Wood echoes the sentiments that are all over social media.
“We’d love for it to stay the Rivoli,” she says. “It’s a really important room for the city. It’d be a shame if that were to change. Especially with so many music venues already closing in the city – it’d be heartbreaking.”
Wood and her business partner Jessica McHardy, along with the since-departed Sarah Henning, bought the bar in 2014 from its original owners. They gave it a face lift, but maintained the spirit of the space that’s been a central fixture of the Queen West scene since the early 1980s.
There’s still a popular pool hall upstairs, pad thai on the menu and an intimate back room with a rich history of music and comedy: Adele and Drake have played there, the Kids In The Hall got their start there in the 80s and Nirvanna The Band The Show’s whole premise is built around a band wanting to play there.
Wood says they’ve been working with their landlords, who have owned the building since the Rivoli opened, and everyone wants the bar’s legacy to continue and for “the right people” to buy the business.
“It’s our full intention for it to continue on as the Rivoli, and hopefully that’s a situation that can happen,” Wood says. “That’s obviously something that would be available in the sale. We just have to explore our options.”
They’re not being evicted – it was just the right time to move on.
Henning left at the beginning of 2020, while McHardy recently had a baby. She’d actually been on maternity leave when COVID-19 forced them to shut down in March. They’d talked about selling before the pandemic, and then everything became more uncertain. The Rivoli was closed from late March until June 1, when they started a takeout bar called the Rivolito. They’ve also recently opened the patio.
The business is listed for $500,000, which is a relative bargain for a prime commercial location like the Rivoli’s. But COVID has changed the market, and the listing was purposely priced low to hopefully attract a buyer that would buy it for the right reasons. They’re also aware things will be uncertain for awhile, but now that things are starting to reopen they think that any buyer should be able to see the potential. It’s a big enough space to reopen in a socially distant way once that’s allowed, and the venue’s legacy speaks for itself.
The staff, some of whom have worked there for decades, are aware that they’re looking to sell and have known for awhile. Wood and McHardy were staff before they were owners, and the option is there for another employee to step up and buy – or for an outside owner to “swoop in” without changing much.
There’s already been some interest, Wood says.